Values-led marketing is not a new idea, but what the industry is lacking is a way of measuring this approach. Blue State's Hannah Johnson argues we have to look outside of advertising and think long-term to find answers.

The age when brands could win consumer hearts and minds (and wallets) solely with shiny new products is fast fading away. Today, many marketing campaigns – and, for that matter, business transformation programmes – are based around values.

The Co-op Group, for example, is making a bigger deal than ever about its investment in and support of local communities with its latest ‘It’s What We Do’ approach. Like many other consumer brands such as Dove, Bosch and Patagonia, it’s focusing on how it’s making a positive contribution to society and within the local community as much as, if not more than, what it’s selling.

Building advocacy this way isn’t a new idea, but it’s more prevalent than ever before. Companies are not just ticking the CSR box, they're aiming to create values-led organisations that are driven by audience and consumer demand rather than by internal stakeholders.

It could be said that we’re entering a new era of CSR. Social responsibility should be considered at every part of the process, including planning, production, distribution and marketing, instead of solely in sustainability.

People want brands willing to put those customer-driven values, and the purpose they create, at the forefront of everything they do. Challenger brands already have an advantage here, as their approach has often been, in essence, co-designed by their target audience. They can learn from where their larger corporate counterparts have failed.

Measurement in an age of values

But this presents something of a dilemma for CMOs, many of whom will actually have been driving this purpose- and values-led approach to the business. Those same marketers are accustomed to a world where success is measured by ROI, click-throughs and sales conversions.

That’s all well and good when the marketing is focused on shifting inventory, but these internal, ‘self-interest’ KPIs no longer cut it when products and campaigns are driven by values and community outreach.

It’s not just about the numbers any more, but the intent that lies behind them. Looking at it through a different and longer-term lens, it’s a case of measuring not only how many people bought the product, but also why they bought it and what they’ll tell their friends and family about it.

That means the industry needs a new set of measurements to determine success: asking ‘do people trust us?’ or ‘are they recommending us?’. These used to be seen as nice-to-haves, but they’re fast becoming the cornerstone KPIs of purpose-led marketing.

Taking a leaf from the third sector playbook

Curiously, this is where charities and not-for-profit brands have a leg up on their big-budget cousins.

They’ve been measuring their success in this way for decades, with tools such as ‘lifetime value’ (how much you can expect a donor to give over the course of their life, based on their donation profile to date) and ‘rapid response’ (how quickly they’re able to react to key moments and external events to drive community outreach). They also want to know if people trust them and whether they’re perceived to be living up to the principles under which they were founded.

Consumer brands will also need to pay more attention to trust – and in some sectors, like financial services and technology, this is already at the top of the agenda. They’ll also want to know if people don’t trust them because of what the brand itself has been doing, or if it’s a broader, industry-wide issue of mistrust. Take fintech - there’s room for new players to grow quickly here, because audiences are losing patience with large financial organisations and questioning how much they care about each customer as an individual. 

Measurement in years versus months 

One advantage of these deeper, advocacy-based metrics is that they are, by their very nature, more long-term than their sales funnel counterparts. That might not be great for the CMO looking to show immediate short-term value to shareholders, but it should be good news for a wider industry that has long bemoaned the dangers of focusing on short-term gains rather than long-term brand building.

Yes, there may be short-term slips, but a focus on values is not something that will show overnight results, and businesses should understand that it isn’t a linear journey. It also leads to deeper, richer insight into audience behaviours and motivation.

Look at LEGO, for example. The business has focused its attention beyond pure sales and into its role in empowering customers – even championing people passing on their bricks to their children rather than buying new sets. Its marketing initiatives look at the role of ‘play’ in society and drive a more powerful cognitive response as a result.

Similarly, Netflix has moved away from focusing on the convenience of a curated playlist and the transactional nature of paying for entertainment. Its efforts of late have focused on the broader brand experience and are built on customer preferences and personalisation.

Other consumer brands are keen to focus on values and how they can use them to drive a better customer and societal experience. But first they’re going to have to re-examine how they plan to measure success in those efforts, because the metrics they’ve used for years just aren’t fit for purpose. Literally.