2023 – a fascinating year at the intersection of brand, marketing, and cultural relevance. Company and brand core values are being tested and consumers are leading with their hearts now more than ever. In the last six months, we’ve seen legacy brands who once proudly supported causes that aligned with their values shy away due to consumer backlash.
Target and Bud Light have long histories of supporting LGBTQIA organizations and using value-based marketing to highlight this community. Both companies made incredible efforts to have more inclusive campaigns for 2023, but inevitably pulled, tweaked, or otherwise minimized their public support.
We could go further into each example and dissect their cultural relevance, but everyone from the New York Times to that miscellaneous marketing connection on LinkedIn has talked through culture-washing.
Instead, here’s an area of opportunity for challenger brands to grasp: identify your values early and live through them. The authenticity movement demands it.
The Authenticity Movement
Now more than ever, consumers are not interested in the empty words of great marketing. From consumer packaged goods to fashion, people are looking for brands that align with their personal values to live a more fulfilling, authentic life.
82% of shoppers say they want brand values to align with their own.
39% said they would permanently boycott a brand because of misaligned
Don’t worry: Brand loyalty isn’t dead, but it has evolved to a deeply personal, values-based loyalty. We’ve seen articles that say it is because consumers are fickle. But let’s change our view to the consumer perspective – it isn’t about fickleness, it’s about intentional living.
We’re Not for Everyone and That’s Okay.
Challenger brands have the flexibility to say, “These are our values, this is how we live them and if we aren’t for you, that’s okay.” in a way legacy brands don’t. This is an opportunity for challenger brands because they are still building their market share.
Legacy brands need universal appeal to maintain their market share and continue to grow. These brands will evolve their core values to resonate with current cultural climates, losing the authenticity along the way. While in some cases that’s not a bad thing, if executed too quickly a positioning change can lead to distrust for legacy brands.
A great example of this is the recent backlash against Chick-fil-A.
Chick-fil-A positions itself as a conservative, values-based company and is public about what they do and do not support as an organization. Along with hiring a diversity and inclusion officer, Chick-Fil-A added a rainbow to their marketing materials on June 1st, and it was not well received by their core audience, believing their common values were betrayed. Meanwhile, the audience Chick-fil-A was targeting with the rainbow narrowed their eyes in suspicion, knowing it was unlikely to be authentic, given their prior statements and positions.
Determining Your Core Values
Many folks see core values as an internal exercise that guides company culture, employer branding, and when relevant, marketing tactics. The values exist in theory more than in practice. Core values make employees feel like they are a part of something bigger, and give consumers a sense of belonging in an increasingly segmented world.
Instead of giving you a generic list of potential values, here are some questions to help you determine what matters most to your brand.
What do the people of our company value?
What do our consumers value?
What are we as a company willing to do to align to a set of values?
What practices are we unwilling to change?
What shifts do we make to uphold our values?
What adjustments do we make to the long and short-term business plan to align with our values?
Keep in mind: as you dive into your core values, you will encounter political, social, and environmental ideologies that may or may not align, and there may be discomfort in establishing these things. These aspects of culture influence our values. Remember, that by living your brand’s core values, you will attract the right-fit audience to your product.
Tips to Living Your Core Values
Your core values become valuable when put into action. Many companies use bland, sometimes obvious core values – Sustainability is a great example. The word itself is meaningless without action; instead, look at your strategic business plan and see how you can better incorporate sustainability efforts across the organization.
Communicate them in a way that is relevant to your audience. Are they product scanners looking for specific iconography? Then applying for sustainability certifications such as the Upcycle Certification might cause a consumer to pause and shop.
No empty promises. Don’t make a bold statement of a core value if you’re not willing to live it.
Keep in mind: This mentality is a company-wide effort. By narrowing your brand focus to the people you want to engage with it becomes easier for the brand’s visual identity, packaging, messaging, and actions to reflect those values.
Skidmore Core Values
In 2022, the studio team revisited our core values and how we present them to the world – turning a lengthy list into 3 Core Values and what they mean to us.
Be a Sage — bring wisdom, have confidence, and be discerning
Have the Zest — bring enthusiasm, add flavor, and be genuine
Deliver the Goods — bring purpose, add value, and be unified
These values are daily practice at the studio — in how we communicate with each other, how we interact with clients, and the quality of our work.
What are your brand’s core values?