Why Values-Driven Marketing Will Rise

Over the decades, advertising and marketing communications have evolved from the simple presentation of benefits and features to the more subtle art of branding. The brand advertiser has expressed a brand promise at every touchpoint to deepen the relationship between advertiser and consumer. The brand promise — when kept with integrity and consistency — has helped the advertiser build trust and loyalty with consumers. It has been proven beyond doubt that brand advertising will perform better than a simple presentation of benefits and features.

During the past 10 years, however, as advertisers have invested increasing dollars in branding, there have been signs of the weaknesses of brand strategy. There are three primary challenges to branding.

First, can the advertiser base its brand promise on attributes and benefits that are truly relevant to the consumer? In so many cases, especially during the dot.com build-up, where advertising entertained consumers more than it influenced them, brand messages did not change behavior as desired. Brand promises attracted attention, but not increase sales. According to a former top executive at Taco Bell, the chihuahua spots made people smile, but not franchisees. In the end, the spots sold dogs, not tacos.

Secondly, branding is hard to sustain. How often does great advertising build expectations (of affection, or affinity, or relationship), only to deliver the consumer into a disappointing sales environment. Ever bought a car? The experience at the dealership is rarely as sweet as it is “with a professional driver on a closed track.”

Third, branding is the claim of the advertiser, but the positioning lives in the heart and mind of the consumer. That is, an advertiser can whisper sweet promises, but new generations of consumers are not so easily seduced. They, and they alone, will determine whether the advertiser is positioned with appealing benefits.

Values-driven marketers base their actions and decision-making on a central ethic, standard, or belief. These marketers refuse to compromise these values. Their values are inner driven, based on long-term, seemingly stubborn self-confidence.

During the past two decades, Young Isaac has worked with a surprising number of values-driven marketers. Why the surprise? We never thought that there were many advertisers who would place their ethics above their immediate mercenary opportunities. But (surprise!) there are. Some examples:

• a community foundation that refuses to ask its donors for money, because that would mistakenly position the foundation as a charity, rather than as it wants to be: an advocate for the philanthropist.

• a bank that refuses to speak of itself, because that would compromise its humility. This bank remains silent, because only the bank’s customers should be celebrated and because, as the chairman humbly says, “we know from whence we came.”

• a children’s magazine publisher that refuses to advertise to kids, even though all other marketers advertise to kids mercilessly. They enter the marketplace every day with one hand tied behind their back, intentionally (and with good, educational reasons).

• a wildlife and pest control company that has a higher idea. We naively asked: “Isn’t your main ethic just to kill the bastards?” No, the founder and CEO told us: “Above all else, we return hope to the homes of its customers.”

Strange constraints to place on businesses, you might think. But leap over your disbelief: each of these companies is at the top of their craft, nationally renown, and legendarily successful.

Why have they come to Young Isaac? Young Isaac is an advertising agency and marketing consultancy that is especially interested and appreciative of values-driven owners and executives. Our interest in — and attention to — a client’s values informs their advertising. We don’t cheapen their values by merchandising them. Nor do we paint a client into a corner; someday, they might have to refine (or compromise) their values to survive. Rather, we imbue their marketing communications and advertising with their values, so the consumer can match the client’s heart.

In the end, this might be the most sincere and meaningful brand relationship of all.