Consumers are paying close attention to brands’ moral, social, and political values. They’re making buying decisions based on the values a brand stands for. However, our research shows that companies lack a systematic approach to values. At CX NYC 2019, I’ll share findings from our values-based experience framework that will help customer experience (CX) professionals evolve their approach in this emerging area. I sat down with Forrester’s events team in advance of the Forum for a sneak peek into the findings.

Q: Consumers are increasingly evaluating the company values of organizations they buy from. Is this a passing fad based on the current social and political climate, or is this a trend that will stick?

This is a huge tectonic shift in consumer behavior that’s been growing for years and will continue to grow. In fact, around the world, values-based consumers are now in the majority: Globally, 64% of consumers “choose, switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues,” according to the Edelman Earned Brand 2018 report. What’s more, values-based consumers now expect deeper value commitments from companies than in the past, so basic appeals to “sustainability” and “integrity” don’t earn these customers’ loyalty anymore.

Q: What does this mean for brands?

Companies can’t ignore the rise of values-based customers and mindlessly continue their traditional, agnostic approach to values. Nor should all businesses transform themselves into completely values-laden enterprises. Instead, firms must make conscious decisions about how much to bring moral, social, and political values into their business models — and just as crucially, how intensely they’ll depict those values to consumers.

Q: Can you give us some examples of companies that take different approaches to values?

Sure, our new values-based experience framework details nine relationships that companies can have with values. Some of the most well-known values-based companies fall into the “limited” category, which consists of companies that have core values but that don’t portray those values in the customer experience very much. Instead, these companies’ values drive mostly behind-the-scenes activities like corporate giving. Chick-fil-A, one of the most well-known values-based companies, falls into this category. Chick-fil-A is dedicated to conservative Christian values and very active with like-minded charities. However, the restaurant chain portrays its values in the CX only by playing instrumental versions of Christian music and closing on Sundays. As a result, customers can go through the whole Chick-fil-A life cycle and never overtly encounter the company’s values. Another interesting category in our model is the “shallow” category. Companies with a shallow commitment to values use ads and standard corporate social responsibility activities to send value messages, despite not having deep moral, social, or political values. Gillette is a good example. Its “We Believe” TV ad told men to be more respectful, but other than adding a page to its website and cutting a check to a charity, Gillette has done little to support this value. And I’m not criticizing Gillette for that. Like I said, companies have to make careful decisions about which of the nine approaches to values is right for them.

Q: Do you foresee a values-based arms race?

If so, what can brands do to maintain their differentiation? Absolutely. As more companies adopt and portray values, the values-based CX environment will become more crowded. This will make it difficult for values-based brands, including legacy ones, to differentiate. To break away from the pack, values-based companies will have to do two things: Appeal to more specific values more deeply, and earn trust with absolute transparency.

Want to hear more about values-driven customer experience? Listen to the What It Means podcast episode,Why Every Firm Needs A Values Strategy.