Engaging in Authentic and Effective Values-Based Marketing
On June 1, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Meta Platforms (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and more than 90 other companies) announced that she will step down before the end of this year. Despite being Facebook’s COO since 2008—and the first woman on the company’s board of directors—to many people she is best known as the author of “Lean In,” her 2013 bestseller that encouraged women to embrace and advocate for their unique experiences, insights, and worth in the workplace.
According to the New York Times, “…the book sold over four million copies in five years. The Lean In foundation supported the creation of thousands of Lean In circles where women, especially those at the start of their careers, turned to Ms. Sandberg’s advice as a guide.” But by 2018 something had shifted in the public’s perception of Sandberg. The Times reported that Sandberg “was faulted for some of the fallout from the data breach scandal involving Cambridge Analytica. On top of that has come research indicating that Instagram, which Meta owns, has had toxic effects on the mental health of teenage girls. Some felt that Ms. Sandberg’s public message remained too focused on individual ambition and achievement, and not on the social value of the company she was leading.”
Social value. It’s a phrase that turns up with increasing frequency in discussions of how companies view themselves and of how consumers view them. The bind that Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook found themselves in was largely one of their own making. Their priorities as a company undermined their purported values, which called the sincerity of those values into question. While Sandberg and Facebook serve as high-profile examples of a disconnect between stated values and corporate decisions, they were far from the only ones contributing to this misalignment.
Values-based marketing is a strategy that appeals to your customers' sense of values and ethics by surfacing how those same values and ethics inspire and drive your company. This strategy focuses on forging an enduring connection with a customer beyond merely stoking interest in a particular product or service. When practiced deliberately and consistently, it has the power to forge a deep bond between your brand and its audiences.
Engaging in authentic and effective values-based marketing through digital communication requires far more than issuing a press release or appointing a mission statement subcommittee. Trumpeting values that truly reflect your organization’s priorities—in the hiring and advancement of personnel, in the production of products, and in the deployment of services—can set your company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees and consumers.
The process of explaining your company values requires time and effort. And, as is true with many worthwhile branding efforts, sacrifice. Why sacrifice? Because a company whose values attempt to be all things to all people, usually end up being watered down, generic, and easily dismissed as a finger-to-the-wind marketing ploy. Being transparent about what values your company champions may push certain consumers away. But those same efforts, when practiced with sense of humility and a dedication to listening to consumers—may be just the thing that wins over dedicated new followers.
A Harvard Business Review article on organizational culture recommends establishing some basic definitions to ensure that people know what they’re talking about and what they’re trying to accomplish when defining values. The article’s author recommends breaking out values into definitive categories, two of which are core values and aspirational values.
Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones. To be core values, they must be viewed—and practiced—as inherent and sacred; they can never be compromised for convenience or short-term economic gain. Aspirational values are those that a company needs to succeed in the future but currently lacks. A company may need to develop a new value to support a new strategy, or to meet the requirements of a changing market. It’s OK to let consumers and stakeholders know that your company views growing into its values as a continual work-in-progress. And that by listening and learning, achieving those value-driven goals is possible.
Often, leaders within a company may be too close to the beating heart of the place to truly see where they may be falling short in communicating or practicing its core values. Over Velir’s two decades of experience, we’ve engaged in countless discovery exercises that surfaced how company communications and digital engagement efforts were either hindering or helping our clients articulate and reflect their closely-held values.
We’d be honored to engage with your organization in this kind of effort. And we’re confident such an engagement would be valuable for you. We invite you to contact us today.