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The Imperative of Brand Values

Jamie Gordon By Jamie Gordon, Dir., Human and Cultural Insights

At SCOUT, we humanize brands. Meaningful connections between brands and people drive all our strategy and creative.

Meaningful connections start with understanding context. What are the forces that drive customers as human beings? What are the values that lead them to choose your brand versus a competitor? When we understand those values, we see an intimate portrait of culture.

Humans may share different values, but we can track overall shifts in values happening in the world. These become our lens to look at how brands—and brand loyalties—have evolved.

Here are a few examples of societal forces shaping modern branding:

Macroforces: The big stuff that motivates values shifts

Hyper-interconnectivity, enabled by digital communication, has allowed us to know more about what’s going on in the world. It lets us share ideas with more and more people, regardless of their location. It’s changed the way we relate with other humans.

A global power struggle is evident between massive governments. More and more, people believe that governments and corporations are in cahoots. However, we are seeing that the power of civil society to facilitate change is being recognized and is growing.

We’ve gained human understanding about the nature of the human condition. More and more, we are proactively managing our physical and emotional wellbeing.

This is juxtaposed with our realization of the consequences of unnatural consumption. We see unprecedented numbers of people suffering from lifestyle diseases related to our food supply, our environment, and our behavior.

Values Shifts: The evolving beliefs that motivate behavior

Many people have been motivated by distrust of institutions—especially governments and big business. We’re seeing a shift from reliance on institutions toward civic and individual action.

We’re also seeing a shift from established beliefs to seeking out knowledge and information. We expect institutions to be transparent and accessible.

Humans have a need for belonging. As a backlash against our impersonal digital world, we see an increased desire to create authentic, grounded connections with the people and world around us.

We have started thinking smaller and closer to home and begun shifting gears from a consumer culture rooted in material acquisition to appreciating the value of experiences and being present.

What it means for brands: strive to be more human

Americans have been marketed to our whole lives. We’ve also been trained to switch brands and explore, eroding loyalty. For all brands, quality is now the cost of entry and trust is at an all-time low. It stands to reason that loyalty will suffer unless your brand inspires an emotional bond.

But that doesn’t happen often.

According to the Meaningful Brands Index, consumers wouldn’t care if 75% of brands went away. They also judge brands by warmth and competence, and are more likely to buy, be loyal to, and recommend brands that seem well intentioned. (See The Human Brand for more.)

That being said, with people blaming big corporations for many of the world’s problems, it’s not a surprise to know that consumers trust big brands and corporations a whole lot less than they used to.

Today, instead of trusting brands as symbols of stability and quality, people tend to begin with distrust until proven wrong. However, consumers are more inclined to trust the people behind the brand. So companies have an opportunity to earn trust.

They can start by allowing the people who drive their brands to be accessible and engaged. They can get to know consumers, appreciate their values, and mirror them.

Traditional advertising is no longer the only way to shape brand perceptions. Those perceptions are strongly effected by peers in the form of online reviews, digital word-of-mouth, and communications online. Consumers need to be part of the dialogue—not just a recipient of messaging. They want to find the meaning embedded in your brand.

This also means that transparency and social accountability have become requirements now that consumers can learn as much as they want about the corporations they buy from.

Ultimately, for brands to really thrive, they need to help people do the same. At SCOUT, we work according to our brand values. We believe this aligns us with the values of our industry and clients. And we articulate those values in our internal and external communications.

We embrace the belief that in everything we do we should be BRAVE:

  • Bold
  • Respectful
  • Altruistic
  • Visionary
  • Empathetic

Being reminded of these values empowers us to be the best humans we can be, both inside and outside of work. And we don’t just wag our tails—we walk the walk. But it starts with authentically understanding our values and how they align with the culture in which we operate.

That’s where every human brand starts.