The Role of Values in Marketing
by Dr. Katalin Eibel-Spanyi

     
   

North America's population is in the midst of a significant transformation. The dramatic increase in the number of senior citizens due to the impact of the baby boomer generation is a widely recognized demographic trend. In the United States, there are about 76 million baby boomers. By the year 2020, it is estimated that people over the age of 50 will account for over 37% of the US population. People who are turning 50 today will likely have half their adult lives ahead of them. That's a lot of time to buy products/services, go to restaurants, go to movies, stay in hotels, work out, renovate homes, rent cars, and pursue other new adventures. If we also take into account that the size of minority groups is swelling, then the profile and power of these consumer groups will significantly increase. Further, a gradual transition of traditionally held social values has begun and is likely to continue. At the same time, there are more ways for marketers to communicate key messages than ever before. In addition to advertising and product packaging, Web sites and blogs represent new and increasingly popular vehicles for use by marketers.

Since the mid 1970’s, due to the foundational work of Milton Rokeach and Donald Vinson, marketers have recognized the importance of personal values in market segmentation, promotion and advertising. A value was defined by Rokeach as “an enduring belief that one mode of conduct or end-state of existence is preferable to an opposing mode of conduct or end-state of existence.” The role of values has a particularly important application in promotional strategy as product and service advertisements can be designed to reinforce certain centrally held values.

Why are personal values particularly important for marketers to understand now? Simply stated, given the significant changes in demographics that are anticipated over the next decade, companies can use data on personal value to better create a consumer experience that genuinely engages their customers. Consumers are faced with an ever wider array of choices. They are not looking for yet another product that doesn't take their true needs and aspirations into consideration. Instead, consumers are increasingly looking for experiences that reflect their deeply held values. This type of engagement requires a certain level of emotional engagement.

Yes – it’s important to reflect keywords that capture the personal values of your target market in media advertising, product packaging, and your company’s Web site. But it’s essential to go beyond that to engage customers. This involves, at a minimum, answering the following questions.

Are you focused on the complete customer experience? You need to first develop the means to understand your customer well enough to know what they need and what they value. Then, every form of communication with customers, your customer service representatives and your Web site must reinforce the story consistently and repeatedly.  Every aspect of your business should reflect what you have learned about your customer. American Express is one example in this respect, given the breadth of its product offering and the detailed level of service. Its approach provides customers with a feeling of both security and prestige.

Are you making the right emotional connections? While it may not be possible to know each customer individually, you can work diligently to create key messages that reflect values, behavior, and attitudes. European car manufacturers have learned this lesson well. Even undergraduate college students, who will not likely be able to afford an upscale automobile for years to come, already know that Mercedes Benz stands for luxury, BMW for performance, and Volvo for safety.

Do you understand the so-called ‘moments of truth’ – the key points of interaction with your customers – and have you structured your operations to align with key consumer values at those moments. Consider the case of Whole Foods Markets. They sell high quality foods, promote organic and natural products, emphasize customer service at key counters (bread, cheese, deli, meat, seafood, etc.) and at the cash register, support communities, and promote environmental awareness. Everything in Whole Foods operations emphasizes what’s important to a group of health conscious consumers who appreciate quality and are willing to pay a premium, thereby optimizing the likelihood of a satisfying interaction with each customer.

Are you providing the means for customers to contribute to their own customer experience? While Dell has had challenges recently, they pioneered the ability for customers to design their own desktops (and willingly pay for it in advance). Progressive Insurance pioneered the practice of engaging customers with transparency of competitive automobile insurance quotations. What are you doing to provide the means for customers to contribute to their own customer experience?

A recent study of university students’ values illustrates the potential for marketers to better understand the values that shape the nature of consumer behavior. Students represent a particularly interesting group as a consumer group because their purchasing power is expected to increase significantly in the next few years. In this study, a total of 248 university students (137 male and 111 female) were surveyed at a Connecticut university using a modified Rokeach value survey.

The study found that the importance of goals and values varies by gender, females have higher importance in “soft” goals and values such as honesty than males, and males have higher importance in “hard” goals and values such as performance than females.

The aggregate ranking of goals and values provides insight into the extent that goals and values are important and the extent to which they are perceived to be realized. By examining both importance and realization, it was possible to identify the areas of largest gaps between aspirations and attainment. The study found that there are certain goals and values which are high in both importance and realization such as happiness, family, health, and freedom. Some goals and values are perceived to be easier to achieve than others – so they were ranked higher on the realization list than their importance rank e.g. honesty and sincerity. For students, it stands to reason, especially given their stage in life, that certain goals and values are perceived to be difficult to achieve. Notable examples are values such as success, and self-sufficiency. These are quite relevant especially if we consider that the sample population is comprised of young adults, college students whose main job is to focus on studying. Although many of them do have some sort of employment, they are not yet self-sufficient and the nature of their job may not have the potential to realize a high level of personal success.

Table 1, which depicts the top ten ranked values for both males and females, indicates that the importance of goals and values does appear to vary by gender. For example, female respondents ranked honesty, safety, and sincerity higher on the importance list than male respondents. In contrast, male respondents ranked honesty lower on the scale of importance than female respondents and the values of safety and sincerity did not even make the top ten ranked values in importance for male respondents. It is also interesting to note that female respondents ranked the realization of honesty, safety, and sincerity at slightly higher levels than their importance.

Table 1: Goals and Values: Importance and Realization by Gender

Female Students

Male Students

Importance

Realization

Importance

Realization

Family

Family

Happiness   

Honesty

Happiness

Honesty

Family

Family

Honesty

Health

Freedom

Happiness

Success

Happiness

Health

Enjoyment

Health

Safety

Success

Health

Freedom

Freedom

Enjoyment

Freedom

Safety

Sincerity

Honesty

Sincerity

Sincerity

Enjoyment

Achievement

Safety

Enjoyment

Success

Self-sufficiency

Performance

Self Sufficiency

Achievement

Performance

Achievement

 

Table 2 and Table 3 depict the importance and realization of goals and values by age, respectively and both do appear to vary by age.

 Table 2: The Importance of Goals and Values by Age


table 2

 

Table 3: The Realization of Goals and Values by Age


table 3

 

The data indicates that the importance of honesty appears to increase with age. Conversely, the value of freedom appears to decline slightly with age. The value of family is perceived to be less important in the age group of 22-30, which is typically the range where an individual has left the maternal home and yet has not built his/her own family unit. The realization of family values is lower for the age group 22-30 than other age groups. 

How can marketers benefit from the findings of such a study? A deeper understanding of personal values enables marketers to craft key messages that reflect what customers’ value and position these messages in their advertising, product packaging, Web sites and blogs. This can assist in making the right emotional connections at each ‘moment of truth’ – the key points of interaction with your customers.

     
   
     
   

The Author

Katalin Eibel-Spanyi

Dr. Katalin Eibel-Spanyi is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Eastern Connecticut State University [ECSU].  Previously, she taught marketing courses at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and was an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Budapest University of Economics. She is a member of the American Marketing Association, the Academy of International Business, and a former Director of the AMA’s Toronto Chapter. She can be contacted at eibel-spanyik@easternct.edu

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2008 by
Dr. Katalin Eibel-Spanyi. All rights reserved.

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