Evolving brand values: Messaging for today’s consumer

Today’s consumers seek brand humanity and trust

Reimagining marketing is at the forefront as consumer values shift during COVID-19, driving brands to pivot and adapt their messaging.

Trust, transparency, and meaningful human interaction

After the staggering level of disruption we’ve all experienced over the past year, this might seem like a surprising assertion: While our behaviors have in many cases shifted dramatically, rapidly, and out of necessity, people’s values—the motivations that underlie behavior—aren’t shifting so quickly.

Instead, there’s a slower drift, but in a common direction: trending toward trust, transparency, and meaningful human interaction as core values at a time when connection with others is more restricted than ever.

There’s no question that COVID-19 has quickly changed how we view the world and how we behave. The crisis has also caused disproportionate suffering across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, often driving deep division. Consider, for example, the dramatically different experiences of the essential professionals on the front lines with those of relatively isolated stay-at-home workers. Despite these disparate experiences, the universal experience of the pandemic has driven people toward shared values of control of their experiences of the world around them and caring for others—with big implications for how marketers and organizations can respond, recover, and thrive in the face of unprecedented change.

Under typical circumstances, American consumers are diversified across a number of motivations, including curiosity, belonging, and learning new things. But the universal experience of the pandemic has collectively pushed consumers to regard control (a desire for proof that organizations will follow through with what they’re saying) and caring for others as prevailing values.

At Deloitte, we devised a way to measure these beliefs through an asset we call the Human Values Compass. We built a proprietary algorithm based on responses to more than 10,000 questions and insights from more than 200,000 people, taking demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral data into account. The responses made it clear that control, safety, and belonging are the values that will increasingly motivate customers, workforce, and partners to act.

The human experience: Quantifying the value of human values

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Measuring motivation

Brands from the hospitality, retail and distribution, and health care industries have already started to put insights from the Compass into practice for their customers. It’s helped improve understanding of not only segments who have the highest propensity to spend, but also those whose values are most aligned with their organizations. Other companies have been able to better pinpoint employee values in order to make better decisions on which initiatives might provide the most motivation to their teams and bolster their morale and internal culture.

For marketers, the benefit of these discoveries is clear: The Human Values Compass offers a sophisticated means through which to proactively deliver on human needs and values. Marketers may know their target broadly as consumers who buy product X in category X, but companies may not have specifically identified the segments that will drive incremental growth, or understand how (and why) people make the choices they make and take the actions they take. For example, we recently used the Compass to help a client understand its total potential market population by assessing segmentation clusters along certain patterns of behavior based on characteristics such as income, spending motivations, and enthusiasm about the brand.

That journey can start by asking the right questions. In the case of the Values Compass, we consider questions ranging from people’s willingness to take risks to their views on the importance of personal relationships. Armed with that information, marketers can begin to better understand customer segmentation and develop deeper, more motivating insights into creative, messaging, and tactics. This helps marketers to align business priorities with customer values and develop effective programs and campaigns. For examples, if a company can ascertain whether someone is motivated by belonging or giving back to their community, they can begin to identify how to interact with those prospects with greater precision.

We have also discovered that, in a world in which people are seeking control and need reassurance from organizations, companies should also clearly communicate their ethical practices and actions through campaigns and actions that bring these values to life. Deloitte Digital’s Heat agency used interviews and Values Compass data to help a Pennsylvania-based health care provider find ways to communicate its commitment to addressing how social, economic, and environmental determinants drive health system usage and customer behavior. The resulting solution included a visual brand identity that brought these values to life, demonstrating that a nuanced, informed understanding of an audience can give rise to emotional creative campaigns that drive meaningful, positive health outcomes.

With improved understanding of values in a changing world, brands can pursue empathy at scale and drive deeper, more meaningful connections with their communities and customers. The essential human values such as control and caring are often driven by a lifetime of experiences, but can be shifted or amplified by a dramatic shakeup like a pandemic. What the pandemic has taught us is that organizations can position themselves to thrive if their purpose overlaps with what we all share and experience as human values.


Maggie Gross
Head of Strategy for Deloitte Studios
Deloitte Digital
Jennifer Machiaverna
Health Care Strategy lead
Deloitte Digital
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