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Understanding Consumer Values to Create Relevant Communications

Understanding Consumer Values to Create Relevant Communications

By Erin Norman

Persuade by Reason, Motivate through emotion.  This has been a key guiding principle of Heart+Mind Strategies message development since our founding in 2008. Reason and emotion are both critical components of resonating with a target audience. But identifying the right emotional appeal, and connecting it to a rational argument, can be tricky to get right. 

 Heart+Mind puts a key focus on studying human values, or the emotional criteria we use to determine the importance and purpose of our decisions. Values form in our early years and are stable, the enduring yardsticks by which people measure the worth and importance of things in their lives. Every individual holds a number of personal values, such as security, love, enjoyment, peace of mind, self-esteem, and others, that guide the decisions and choices they make.  

  • The personal value that guides one decision may be different from the value that guides a different decision or choice.  
  • The personal value that drives a decision for one person is often different from the personal value that drives the decision for another person regarding the same product, issue, candidate, etc.  
  • The personal value that drives a decision may also be a result of a positive outcome/benefit a person seeks or a consequence/ risk they hope to avoid. 

We help our clients identify the personal values driving their brand or issue to inform effective values-based communication strategies.  Understanding values can show us:

  • What is central to an individual’s decision-making process;
  • What has the most influence in a person’s life; and, most importantly;
  • Underlying motivations to actions and choices.

We used these techniques to unlock an audience we called The Vital Center for a non-profit think tank. The client wanted to understand what motivated this essential group which had bounced from Obama to Trump, and in some cases back again to Biden in 2020. Communications to the group had traditionally rested on the theory that political ideals motivated these shifts, though the specifics shifted over time. 

However, what we found by using our Values approach was that the Vital Center wasn’t motivated by political ideology at all or even by specific policies approaches. Instead, they seek practical solutions that deliver results to support their values of security, safety and long-term peace of mind. As they see one political party fail to deliver on policy that fulfills these emotional needs, they switch. 

 In this case, studying the specific policies of interest would have only provided half of the intel about why people prefer the options they do. By incorporating a values-based approach, our client now understands what underlying needs policy must address. 

Values endure. Even when most things in life shift or change, values remain solid anchors you can count on. Understanding these values is critical to unpacking and changing human behavior.


About the Author

Erin Norman is a Senior Solutions Consultant at Heart+Mind Strategies focusing on policy issues, advocacy and non-profit marketing. She has experience directing political and ballot initiative polling at the local, state and federal level. Her expertise includes values-based communications, crisis communications, message testing, micro-targeting and predictive analytics.

Erin holds a Master’s in Public Policy from The College of William and Mary, with a focus on econometrics and quantitative methods, and a B.S. in Business Administration from Boston University.

Are You Really Connecting with Your Audience?

In the world of advertising, marketing and communication, values-based research has never been, well, more valuable.

Values are what drive people to make the decisions they make, from buying a car or voting for a politician. More and more we see the importance research plays in aligning brands and organizations with a specific target audience’s values, and motivating benefits they desire, in order to break through in an increasingly crowded information environment. With more access to technologies, platforms and data, we are able to understand how a brand or an issue is perceived across the various phases of the customer or audience journey. Reaching and tapping into deeply-held individual and societal values along the way will yield the greatest success.

Domestically, we see the importance of values among Millennials. Their growing purchasing power and presence in the workforce make them a highly coveted audience. Understanding and reaching them has been the subject of many studies. One of the main findings is that this generation more closely associates individual, societal, and brand values to their purchasing and professional journey decisions. Advertisers and employers should both take note.

Another area where the values discussion is playing out is in the presidential campaign. Once again, most of the Republican candidates are trying to be the torchbearer of Ronald Reagan’s values.   One value commonly associated with President Reagan was security and one of my favorite ads from the 1984 campaign addresses that core value without mentioning it. The ad is almost as relevant today as it was then. If you haven’t seen the “Bear in the Woods” ad recently (or ever if you’re a Millennial) then you really should. It is timeless.

Clearly values are not just for Republicans. A recent report from Purple America shows that, over the past two presidential elections, the candidate that most often communicates values has scored highest on their Values Meter and has won the past two elections. Hillary Clinton currently tops the values meter. Republicans take note.

Internationally, the battle of values is being waged across the Middle East. ISIS’ messaging has proven very difficult for the U.S. government and our allies to counter. Despite our efforts over the past two years, new recruits keep coming. Their messages and propaganda are tapping into a values system that resonates with particularly vulnerable young recruits who are young and looking for ways to “define their lives.”  Countering with facts and stories alone will not tap into these deeper values.

Almost every marketer is looking for that breakout campaign. The viral video that is going to create a powerful new market entry or one that is going to reconnect and strengthen a brand. Those that succeed strike a chord. We feel that the best way to find that chord is through values-based research.

Want to learn more about how you can identify and tap into these values? Download our report or contact us.