When given the choice, people prefer to do business with companies who share their values. This creates a powerful incentive for businesses to exhibit and exemplify the values that are of the greatest importance to their customers, employees and shareholders. In fact, shared values should be the primary basis upon which companies engage with their key audiences.
Too many businesses try to establish connections based on issues, interests or innovations, but those can be fleeting. Values, on the other hand, have an enduring quality that makes them a far more stable foundation on which to build a meaningful connection. While people’s views or opinions may change, their core values are likely to be much more resilient.
To be clear, engaging on values is not about politics or partisanship. It’s not even about taking sides on contentious social issues or lining up for or against a given ideology. Conservatives and liberals alike can disagree fundamentally about specific public policies or political personalities yet share a common commitment to certain foundational values.
As a best practice, then, businesses should conduct frequent “values surveys” to identify the values that are most important to the people who are most important to the company. With those insights, companies would be in a far better position to ensure their corporate value proposition aligns with what some have called their “corporate values proposition.”
These surveys can also help ensure that companies aren’t focused on values that are of secondary importance to their stakeholders. For example, a company could invest significant time, effort and resources promoting its commitment to accountability and transparency only to learn that its core audiences are more concerned with equality and diversity.
Remember: people tend to choose companies who share their values—they are not looking for companies to be their moral compass. Nobody is going to shift their values just because they are espoused by the companies with which they do business, and there are plenty of examples of companies who have alienated loyal customers by focusing on the wrong values.
None of this is to suggest that business leaders should suppress their personal beliefs, or adopt and endorse views that are contrary to their own values. Rather, it is a question of acknowledging that the success of any business may require its leadership team to focus more on the priorities of others more than their own. Again, it’s not personal—it’s business.
For this reason, values surveys should be used to inform corporate strategy, giving business leaders a firm and fixed marker against which to measure their management decisions. If its customers are committed to equality, a company should ensure their external communications as well as their internal governance recognize and reflect equality.
In this, as in all things, actions always speak louder than words. If a company were to discover that their stakeholders prize a commitment to diversity above everything else, it would be wise for them to ensure diversity is reflected not only in the content of their marketing and advertising but also the composition of its Board of Directors and executive team.
A values-based engagement strategy can only work if a company’s commitment to its values is both genuine and sincere. Craven or callous attempts to pay lip-service to values will not only offend those a company is seeking to attract, but they can fatally undermine your credibility in all other respects.
After all, if you lie about your values, what won’t you lie about?
Engaging people based on values is not only a way of cementing the loyalty between a company and its existing audiences, it can be a competitive advantage that helps grow a business. Once a company has identified and emphasized its core stakeholder values, they can reach out to new and different groups who share a commitment to those same values.
Of course, a commitment to any particular set of values is not a commitment that should be made lightly. It will impact your business. It could require changes, even significant changes, to how you do business or engage with your customers and the communities in which they live. Because values-based engagement must be heartfelt, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Despite its costs, however, values-based engagement can offer significant rewards. Customer, employee, and shareholder loyalty founded on values runs much deeper than a loyalty based on brand recognition or product affinity. Shared values are the bedrock of any relationship, and can be the rock upon which you build a successful business.