Does values-based marketing really work?
Brands like Under Armour are finding success with values-based marketing
Picture this: Gisele Bundchen throwing a mean right hook, then a left, and then another right at a punching bag while real-time social media mentions fly across the walls.
Seeing the sometimes nasty nature of the messages, the iconic Brazilian supermodel taps into her strong will to rise above the noise, sweating it out in head-to-toe Under Armour gear.
These images come from a television ad campaign, “I Will What I Want,” that was created by ad agency Droga5 for Under Armour. The ad scored this year’s only Cannes Lions Grand Prix awarded in the cyber category.
The campaign is an example of the emergence of values-based marketing: Under Armour's is looking to tap into consumers' emotions and core values. In this case, it's the concept of willpower — if you believe in your ability like Gisele does, you can achieve your goals.
But while Under Armour's campaign may be an award-winning success, the biggest question for marketers experimenting with values-based marketing today is pretty simple: Does it actually work?
The potential of values-based marketing
Leveraging peoples' emotions for marketing purposes isn't an entirely new concept, but applying neuroscience principles to advertising is still largely uncharted territory. A recent article in Forbes points out the practice of mixing brain science and marketing has been rebranded several times over the years, but today more people are taking notice.
For brands, forming a values-based connection with their target audience can help strengthen customer loyalty, create brand advocates, and increase engagement. Shoppers crave that brand connection — 87% of consumers responded to a 2014 Edelman brandshare survey saying they look for meaningful relationships with brands.
But the biggest reason that marketers may look at values-based marketing is this: It sells.
Droga5 said the spot featuring Bundchen garnered 1.5 billion impressions and helped lead to a 28% sales increase for Under Armour. (Droga5 was recently picked up by the athletic apparel company as its agency of record.)
“It's an entry that demonstrates how a powerful brand narrative is enabled through technology and how this narrative can live and grow in a modern, multi-screen digital environment," Jean Lin, Isobar CEO and Cannes jury president, told AdAge. "It demonstrated how a well-crafted digital experience can create uplifting impact, from the point of engagement to the point of transaction.”
With “I Will What I Want,” Under Armour looked at its consumers’ unmet needs and desires, understanding that their community is made up of more than just professional athletes and former athletes, but also weekend warriors, working moms and young professionals.
“We always go back to the will, it’s the heartbeat of Under Armour,” Bill Besselman, VP of connected fitness strategy and integration at Under Armour, told Marketing Dive in an interview. “And willpower is a very powerful emotive message.”
Speaking to values
In an increasingly digital world, where attention spans are fleeting and an increasing number of ads are seen on mobile screens, marketers have to hook their audiences quickly. One tactic is by tapping into their consumers’ innate values.
“Values are something that transcend a specific domain,” Ravi Iyer, data scientist at values-based marketing agency Zenzi, told Marketing Dive in an interview. “A lot of our consumption is based on our values … and by speaking to values [in your messaging], you can target in a broader and more efficient way.”
For marketers, it boils down to understanding how and why consumers make decisions.
Zenzi's Iyer explains that when you look at the broader pattern of behavior in consumers’ purchases and sift for value types, you are able to bolster the predictive arm of your marketing model and boost results. At Zenzi, they break values down into six core value categories, stemming from the theory of Basic Human Values pioneered by social psychologist Shalom Schwartz.
The six values Zenzi has identified are: freedom, purpose, tradition, security, achievement, and pleasure. Zenzi Founder and President Sarah Hardwick explained to Marketing Dive that their team uses sentiment analysis, social listening and surveys to uncover insights they can use to create more effective marketing campaigns for clients.
“Sometimes it can be one single insight that changes everything,” Hardwick said.
The goal is to discover what really motivates customers. Zenzi will look at everything from purchase behavior and product reviews to engagement with posts to find clues about consumers' communications preferences.
Under Armour is not a client of Zenzi’s, but the values-based marketing shop conducted a surface assessment of the apparel brand for Marketing Dive and found its core audience is made up of achievement-oriented consumers. Some of the main characteristics of achievement-oriented consumers include being active and outgoing; connecting with the goal of being the best; having confidence in their ability to perform well; being driven by success; and looking up to celebrities and/or professional athletes for motivation.
More importantly, there are buying and communications preferences assigned to the persona: they tend to spend freely but are brand conscious and loyal. They are also active social media users that enjoy stories that align with how they perceive themselves.
Because of that, Hardwick said she was surprised to find that there is a discrepancy between Under Armour’s consumer persona type and the types of posts Under Armour shares the most on social media.
“They're very overt about their values and positioning themselves as an achievement company, but it was surprising that the types of posts being put out via social are less so” and more tradition-oriented, Hardwick explained.
Under Armour’s Besselman agreed that the brand is very achievement-oriented, but said that the variations in their copy from social to web text is intentional. “The copy has to change for social,” he explained, because their messaging is “about now,” and needs to tie back to campaigns in real-time, without focusing so much on sticking to a specific persona.
The science behind values-based marketing
Not everyone is sold on values-driven marketing. At least, not yet.
Dr. Carmen Simon, a cognitive neuroscientist and co-founder of marketing science firm Rexi Media, believes the approach can be effective, but cautions marketers over selecting specific value types too quickly.
“The brain is constantly moving toward rewards,” Simon explained during a neuro-marketing panel at Advertising Week in October. "Brands have to understand rewards and motivations, and define those clearly when talking about emotional marketing to really measure the effect.”
Simon is skeptical of values-driven models, noting that “quite frankly, often we have no idea why we decide one way or another.” For example, it's great to think you reached for a specific yogurt at the grocery store because your mother used to buy it for the family, but Simon asks marketers to question whether that’s why they picked that brand, or if they are really just acting out of habit.
Zenzi's Hardwick admits that, to a certain extent, “values ... can be somewhat polarizing; sometimes having a little bit of everything isn't the most effective or best strategy because what speaks to one consumer isn't necessarily going to appeal to another.” The Edelman brandshare 2014 study shows that only 17% of consumers feel brands provide meaningful interactions.
Simon suggests a more basic approach, outlining three routes to decision-making that marketers should consider: Pavlovian (or reflexive), habitual, and goal-oriented (cognitive) decision-making. Depending on the brand, the route the consumer takes will vary, according to Simon.
Fitness brands should hook into consumers’ reflexes or habits to see an increased likelihood of changed behavior, she said. That is — if you want to motivate somebody to exercise more, you don’t necessarily offer them another pair of running shoes. Rather, you remind them of the brand with an ad showing a runner getting ready to work out and the brand’s shoes propped up by the door, where the consumer likely leaves their running shoes at home, too. This way, the brand taps into a consumers’ habits and gives them a meaningful interaction.
But for Under Armour, the values-based marketing approach appears to be working.
The company came into an environment where veteran brands had already forged emotional connections with consumers, according to Besselmann, which meant they had to strike a strong personal chord with their consumers quickly.
"Our consumers are trying to accomplish something, they have a goal, by raising their hands to be a part of Under Armour, they’re signing up to achieve toward a purpose," he said. "The beautiful thing for us is that's true for everyone in our community.”