As a voracious media consumer, I’m exposed to a mind-numbing amount of advertising. Enough that trends start to emerge. One recent trend standing out more than others is an influx of “cause marketing” tactics, where brands incorporate their values into their messaging. Look no further than the composition of Adweek’s 10 best ads from 2017. Brand values are en vogue!

The love affair between advertising and brand values is reasonable when you consider consumer motivations. Anjali Lai’s insights from Forrester’s consumer data reveals that company ethics and values are playing more prominent roles in how consumers evaluate products and brands. As my colleagues Jim Nail and Henry Peyret describe, the shifting behavior makes it incumbent on brands to identify, prioritize, and live by a set of values resonant with their customers. However, be advised: marketing campaigns are by themselves insufficient to convey values.

To explain why, I turn to Carl Jung, a father of psychology. Jung is famously attributed the quote, “you are what you do, not what you say you will do.” Though Jung was concerned with the human psyche, the quote retains meaning for branding as well. Values that live only on paper or in communication strategies are not truly values. Unfortunately, bridging stated brand values to living brand values is an area of dissonance for many companies.

Brands must exhibit values through their deeds. Forrester’s report on the Rise of The Empowered Customer explains why: today’s empowered customers easily see through the thin veneer of inauthentic marketing tactics, using their info-savviness to judge which brands reflect values authentically through their actions.

Potential deficiencies are rectifiable.

You can help elevate the visibility and authenticity of corporate values by:

  • Integrating values into strategic decisions. If values are part of your corporate mission and strategy, they should inform decisions. The aftermath of the 2016 election cycle forced Facebook to reconsider how it positions its values, moving from “making the world more open and connected” to “bringing the world closer together.” This was more than a PR ploy. The new values serve as guidelines for changes Facebook has made to its platform, including elevating the function of its Groups feature and prioritizing content shared by friends and family in News Feeds.
  • Identifying opportunities to reaffirm values. Supporting brand values is a continuous effort. You have to keep identifying new ways to demonstrate values in action. Patagonia supported its outdoor-centric values with a commitment to sue the US government over reductions in land allocated for national monuments, while Tesco spotlighted its commitment to end food waste by early 2018 with new plans to donate surplus food to charities. Sometimes what you don’t do reinforces values as well. For instance, Chick-fil-a reaffirmed its family-focused commitments by not operating its stall in the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sundays.
  • Admitting transgressions, immediately. In the age of the customer, power and information access tilt toward individuals. Customers can be remarkably forgiving, with the condition that the brand is forthright about any negligence. The fallout following the revelation that Apple intentionally slowed older iPhones with aging batteries without communicating the practice to its customer reminded us of an age-old adage: The cover-up is always worse than the crime. If company representatives have done something to compromise its values, they should fess up and start rectifying the problem. For example, Samsung responded to its cell phones’ safety failures by transparently communicating its missteps and introducing new quality protocols in their development process.

As brands continue to adopt values, they must be wary of doing so with half-hearted, marketing-specific efforts. Forrester has found that conspicuously appropriating values is a fast track to repelling customers. Heed the advice of James Quincey, CEO of Coca Cola, when he says, “A brand has to stand for something and you have to make the choices of what you want it to stand for, and then stand behind those choices.” Carl Jung, branding enthusiast, would surely agree.

As always, we’re curious to hear your thoughts.

Thanks to contributors  Anjali LaiJim NailHenry Peyret, Brigitte Majewski, and Chris McClean.