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.

COVID-19: The Great Unveiler and Amplifier of Human Needs

By Katie Plocheck Hunt

Over the last seven months, we have seen a shortage of many things, but discussion around the impact of COVID-19, both on our current day-to-day lives and on the changes the virus is projected to have long-term, has not been one of them. And while we have a seemingly good handle on what those changes are today—a mass exodus out of the workplace and into our homes, the increasingly rapid digitization of our lives, and the decrease of social and institutional trust, for starters—how can we know which of these shifts will actually last and which are mere fleeting moments at a very specific arch of human history? We find ourselves, after all, in an intense age of precarity. And just as there is no shortage of discussion, there is likewise no shortage of change. The virus has been a great accelerator of underlying realities and trends that were already playing out, to a large extent. It has also laid bare existing human needs that were likely lying dormant, carrying on unmet, or at best, being fulfilled but not yet reaching their full potential. 

At Heart+Mind, we look at the impact of forces like the coronavirus through a three-pronged lens that places the human at the center of the experience. It is the human, we believe, and his or her decisions, that have lasting value in a marketplace full of choices. We understand how cultural forces and the marketplace act upon and affect human values, which give importance to the needs that brands, organizations, and products can address. In turn, we understand how the human experience drives the trajectory of these shifts. 

The coronavirus is, by many measures, in a league of its own. Not often does a singular force spin such a voracious web of far-reaching repercussions. From the collective to the individual; from the lofty plane of global political imagination to the daily task of creating a grocery list; the virus’s reach is agile, incisive, and indiscriminate.

But is it the virus itself that holds such acute power? As we sought to answer the question of which shifts might last and which will not, it was apparent that it is not about the singular—or even the collective—strength of a force that matters first and foremost, but the number and importance of the human needs it plays upon and activates. At first glance, it appears that those shifts having the most impact are those in which the coronavirus “joined”; to summarize the words of editorialist David Brooks, the virus hit like a hurricane in the middle of an earthquake—an intensifier of the ongoing upheaval of life as we know it. Indeed, we see great impact around rapid gentrification and a widening disparity between the rich and the poor, around social unrest amplifying movements like Black Lives Matter and an ever-growing populus mentality, and around an increased shift of brands—and the technologies they leverage—adapting to higher levels of digital demand. 

But, there is no less power behind newer, and more singular shifts occurring. Working and nesting from home (many with children in tow), a clamoring for basic resources on a mass scale, and a propulsion of new ways to self-entertain and find connectedness, are each direct outcomes of the virus’s brunt and have borne equal weight upon the human reality. 

At the center of all of these trends and shifts are core human needs and values giving the virus and its accompanying forces velocity. In short, those shifts that matter most and that have the greatest “sticking” power are those that play upon and awaken the highest number of needs—needs that will last far beyond the life of the virus. While it may appear that the most “sticky” of shifts are those that the virus intensified, it is just as likely, if not more, that those emergent and more singular forces are as much here to stay.

Working from home, for example, has been a direct result of the necessity of a short-term, albeit critical, need for safety. But this (new to some) trend has subsequently exposed people to needs they might not have previously been aware of, or at the least, able to address. People around the world are seeing increased amounts of time freed up from the daily commute—time gained to spend with family, to cultivate a new hobby or multi-task. Needs not only for safety but for efficiency, quality time, connectedness, and more have created a reality in which working from home is likely here to stay. Companies and tech platforms have had to follow suit, adapting to these new needs, and helping pave the path to meet them. 

Another key shift has been the ways in which people are addressing the need to belong. From virtual classes to online wine/cooking groups, to family Zoom sessions and drive-by birthday parties, we are witnessing workarounds for heightened isolation. But, we have also seen needs for comfort and freedom crack open, as many enjoy the lack of attachment to a social schedule, increased solitude and alone time.

What does all of this mean for understanding the lifeline of trends and behaviors? It means we need to step back from the phenomenon itself and more deeply understand the human needs and values fueling them. If we truly examine the events and behaviors as the tangible manifestations of human needs and values in action, we can not only better understand them, but be more prepared as brands and services to help address and fulfill them. And perhaps even more importantly, we can extend beyond just addressing them, and begin to listen to and learn from their presence, creating a reality that not only anticipates the next set of needs, but also helps to cultivate them. 

About the Author

Katie Plocheck Hunt is a Senior Strategy Director at Heart+Mind Strategies, where she works to deploy thoughtful marketing, branding and organizational thinking around clients’ challenges. Her portfolio includes clients like the Gates Foundation, Google, Boeing, and Johnson & Johnson.

In addition to her work experience, Katie holds a Master’s degree in Sociocultural Anthropology from Brandeis University where she focused on identity theory and honed her ability to not only see complex narratives at play, but to understand how those “stories” can be applied to client business. Today, she is passionate about focusing on human needs in the business landscape, and weaving together all the dynamic systems at play in our world to help clients.

On Strategic Communications Today

In the most recent issue of the US Army’s quarterly publication Parameters, the article “On Strategic Communications” discusses target audience analysis and using communications to persuade by reason and motivate through emotion – the approach that is our tag line.  The section “Forging a Strategy  (beginning on page 5) references our values laddering approach and how we use insights from this to understand decision–making behavior and quotes from our President, Mike Dabadie.

Click here to read the full article.


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.