Understanding Your Customer’s Shifting Values

Today’s stagnating economy is significantly changing the buying behavior of affluent consumers and Considered-Purchase Brands must understand these intrinsic value shifts if they want to win over the consumer of the future.


This prolonged recession is once again showing how a dramatic change in economic conditions results in an equally dramatic change in societal values – which definitely impacts business, especially upper-end goods and services.

You see, there’s a not-so-funny thing that happens once a society gets very rich – its values tend to get very poor. The productive agrarian values that built and protected the growing community – values like generosity, self-sufficiency, work ethics, and loyalty – all get left behind and decline into, well yes, the selfish and destructive epicurean values we connect to the fall of the Rome.


What does all this mean for today’s marketers of big ticket items, important services and luxury brands? It means the opposite is equally true: as the society continues to suffer an economic decline, values are shifting back from the free-spending epicurean values to the more considered (even tight-fisted, do-it-yourself) agrarian values – think America in the 1800s.


As the global economy lingers in slow to no growth, we are seeing a serious change in all consumers buying habits, but especially in the affluent consumers (the only consumers with disposable income). The affluent buyer is not only becoming a more value-conscious buyer, they are also becoming a much more Values-based buyer, and they will use their wallets to support brands that support their core values and beliefs.

While there are several brilliant books out on the impact of this recession on consumers’ behavior, authors John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio get to the heart of the matter in their new book Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell and Live. In a cogent interview by Leigh Buchanan at INC.com, Gerzema shared 7 ways that I agree can help Considered Purchase Brands connect with this new consumer:

  1. Return To Old-Fashioned Values: To make up for less money, today people are finding happiness in activities and relationships. Virtues like thrift, do-it-yourself projects, faith and community are popular again. In fact, 76% of the people surveyed by Gerzema’s team reported that the number of possessions they own does not determine their level of happiness.
  2. Seek a Share of Heart: Where once Marketers fought for share of mind, today great brands are aligning with their customers’ hearts and values. In Gerzema’s research, 71% of consumers said they buy from companies that share their same values. These are the companies consumers care about. The consumer is brutally honest about the companies they don’t care about, as nearly the same percentage said they would not buy from a company or brand whose values did not match theirs. And with too many choices chasing too few consumers today, why should they?
  3. Give Quality A New Meaning: With almost every purchase requiring greater consideration than ever before, consumers are becoming more discerning. There is now an even greater level of demand for quality on all levels; craftsmanship, authenticity, materials, features and above all ethics – you know, all the stuff that makes you feel good about the stuff you just bought.
  4. Queen-For-A-Day Customer Service: How well your customer is treated during the buying experience is always a huge factor in the value/Values perception. Yes, the authors acknowledge that your staff is probably overworked and the customer is more demanding than ever, and yet you still must expect your team to smile, jump over the moon and then land with a curtsey. Customer service is the greater differentiator – and when values are at stake, it is your people who best represent your brand’s values. Stating that persuasion no longer works, the author reminds brands tomake real gestures that go beyond words and never forget the power of simple kindness.
  5. Use Innovations To Cut Cost and Add Values: Consider these innovative happenings:
    • Wal-Mart is local sourcing many of its products: Downtown Detroit, that wasteland of urban blight, is changing into urban farms and creating corner greenmarkets.
    • In Kansas City, people are “cow pooling”: People get together and buy a share in one cow, thus lowering the cost of high-quality organic meat. People are raising chickens in their back yards and home canning is on the rise
    • Bartering for goods and services is making a comeback
    • 64% of American want to do and make more things themselves (a big opportunity for companies that can meet this demand)

Market Your Good Deeds

As more consumers make Values-based choices, companies must learn how to market their brand Values and company’s Good Deeds right along with how they market their products and services. Pointing to the philanthropy of Bill Gates and connecting it to the top 5 brand ranking of Microsoft, the authors recommend that other companies follow suit and allow their founders, executives and employees to become identified with make-the-world-a-better-place causes.

Go Big With Universal Values

Rather than try and target consumers by matching consumer values with corporate values, the authors warn against going narrow, and I clearly agree. It is much better to think in terms of universal values that have always worked in business regardless of the economic climate – values that are broadly shared across all social and economic groups, including:

    • transparency
    • honesty
    • kindness
    • good stewardship
    • humor

In a world where your consumers are shedding costs and unburdening themselves from the financial and emotional weight of too many possessions, it is increasingly imperative marketers keep their focus on both value and values.