Three very different brands with an unfortunate commonality: Each has recently incurred the wrath of a growing segment that Forrester calls the values-based consumer.

Last week at Forrester’s Consumer Marketing Forum, my colleague Henry Peyret and I launched a new line of research. It helps marketers manage the trend of consumers looking beyond the direct, personal benefits they receive from a brand to also value the brand’s impact on society and the world. Paired with Anjali Lai’s powerful companion data report on how empowered consumers’ decision making is changing, this set of research represents a new dimension of Forrester’s overarching thesis on the age of the customer.

To be “customer obsessed,” brands need to do more than study their customers’ technology habits and the digital data they have about them, and even go beyond delivering extraordinary experiences. These are things all companies are trying to do today and will differentiate brands just until their competitors catch up. Increasingly, brands will be evaluated beyond the sum of their features, benefits, personality, and positioning. Tapping the increased transparency created by social technologies, consumers are able to choose brands that reflect their own beliefs on issues related to their personal interpretation of societal impact.

In short, as the title of our report states, brands must "Align With Consumers' Values To Win Their Hearts And Wallets".

The evidence of this trend is all around: from the #deleteUber campaign, to Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad fiasco, to the end of the Ringling Bros. Circus’ 146-year run. Consumers are rejecting companies that in these cases: exploit their employees, try to co-opt important societal issues to burnish their brand image, and don’t respect animal rights. And they are embracing brands like Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods Market, and REI that build loyalty by standing for something beyond just their product or service.

But if a brand must stand for something, what should it be? Taking a stand as a brand is treacherous territory, and missteps are all too common. And today’s company mission statement and corporate social responsibility programs fail to meet consumer expectations. Our research identified three steps that marketers can take to gain the benefits and avoid the pitfalls:

1.    Focus on values that have brand relevance and consumer resonance

2.    Incorporate values throughout the organization, not just your marketing communications

3.    Create tangible evidence of your values commitment

We have much more research coming on this essential topic, so follow me on Twitter: @jim_nail. In the meantime, learn more by listening to this recent episode of Forrester's What It Means podcast.