Is it value for their money or their money for your values?


In an era where consumers’ blind trust has disappeared across all industries, honesty and authenticity have become the qualities that matter most. More than ever, companies are being held to higher standards. New generations expect more from brands. From the shirt they wear to the poke bowl they post on Instagram, they choose products and services that align with the values they want to project online and off, increasing the need for brands to be value conscious. Of course, customers still want value for their money. But today, specific values now count more than price

When talking about “new generations”, of course the famous Generation Y or Millennials come to mind. The catchword generation. The game-changers. The so-called “destroyers of industries”. They were born roughly between 1980 and 1995, and have been a point of focus for the last few years. The Centennials or Gen Z are another up-and-coming, yet still largely unknown, younger group born after 1996. 

Even though Millennials and Centennials both emerge in the middle of the digital age, there are considerable differences between them, which we’ll address in another article. For now, let’s concentrate on their similarities, such as their need for authenticity. The changes between generations are gradual. Millennials are the most powerful and influential consumer sector. They set buying trends across all industries and are passing their mindset along to Gen Zs, who are expanding it. Business Insider described Gen Zs as “Millennials on steroids”. 

Search for authenticity

The search for authenticity has driven these younger generations away from traditional media in favor of more intimate social media platforms and YouTube influencers. It has also led them to investigate a company’s why and how before investing in their product or service. Today’s empowered consumers are internet adepts, skilled at finding almost anything a company does to then share it across social media platforms. 

Hyper-connected, socially-informed and knowledge-driven, Millennials are deeply suspicious of a sales pitch. Images are photoshopped or filtered, words are twisted – it’s harder than ever to differentiate true from false. Millennials, as well as Gen Zs, are relentless and obsessive in their quest for the real deal. They have been lied to too many times. They want to hear what’s said when the tape stops rolling. They want to be told the true story, not the bedtime story. A survey by Cohn & Wolfe found that global consumers ranked authenticity above innovation (72%) and product uniqueness (71%) when asked what they valued most in a brand

The new generations would rather buy from a company supporting social and environmental issues over one that doesn’t. However, if the company comes out in support of a cause that seems unrelated to its own mission, it can have the opposite effect. Values yes, fake ones, no. 

What is authenticity?

Authenticity is more than honesty and transparency. Brand authenticity is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a package of core values, of course, but more so the degree to which a company internalizes those values and integrates them into its mission, vision and daily operations

In order to convince new generations of its support for a cause or value, a brand has to be willing to invest in it, otherwise it will come off as superficial and, even worse, as trying to capitalize off of it. This practice is called “goodwashing”, a spin-off of “greenwashing”, which refers to companies that claim to respect the environment, but in fact do nothing to back up the claim. 


Is caring profitable?

Nielsen published a report confirming that 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. Brands who demonstrate strong ethical and sustainable practices tend to be more attractive to new generations. 

Brands may have amazing products and services to sell, but it’s their brand value proposition that helped them create their marketing supremacy and awareness that resonates instantly with their audience. The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, summarized the connection perfectly when he said: “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” It’s true, you don’t buy Coca-Cola over Pepsi (or vice versa) because it tastes better (let’s not have this debate, countless studies have shown that the difference is in our heads). No, you buy it because you buy either into the “happiness” brand or the “youthfulness” brand, depending on which value you consider most important to you

Patagonia is a great example. Yvon Chouinard, a former climber hailed by some as the Steve Jobs of eco-conscious commerce, is not your usual businessman. He set up his first company, a small climbing equipment firm, more than 50 years ago, simply because no one was selling the kind of pitons he wanted. He then founded Patagonia, a company that has remained true to its eco-conscious origins. Patagonia uses 100% organic cotton and donates 10% of its profits or 1% of sales – whichever is greater – to environmental groups. In the last decade, the company pushed its commitment to environmental activism even further, motivating product innovation and growing its brand awareness and sales. Since then, Patagonia has quadrupled its revenue. The perfect example of how staying true to your core values and expressing them is a 360-degree win

So, how do you build an authentic brand?

If building an authentic brand seems like a monumental task, not to worry, we’re here to help, starting with a few tips: 

  • Find your values 
    • It may seem obvious but let’s start at square one: identify what your values are. There is no right or wrong answer, it depends on your brand and your target customers. Ask yourself which words you want to come to mind when people think of your brand. For example, Apple inspires “innovation”, “thinking differently” and has an overall “cool factor”. This is not a coincidence; the brand communicates accordingly and promotes these values. 
  • Stay true to your values 
    • When it comes to social, moral, and corporate values, authentic brands have set the bar high. Once a company or small business has defined what it stands for, it’s important to stand by its convictions firmly, forever. Integrity is everything. 
  • Take time to build relationships and talk 
    • Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience. Think long-term and give consumers time to get to know your product or service. Find a place in the community and be completely and honestly part of it. Talk but also listen, have a two-way conversation. Share, give back, show the members of this community that you’re in it for the long haul and that you’re not going to let them down. Get involved! 
  •  Be honest and transparent 
    • We live in a time where there is no real privacy. Everything is scrutinized. Authenticity demands owning mistakes and making amends for them versus trying to hide them. Jill Dumain, Patagonia’s Director of Environmental Strategy, explained it well: “I trust what you tell me about the good, because you’re willing to tell me about the bad”. 
  • Act on it: 
    • Brand values don’t mean much if they’re not constantly represented by the things you do and say. For example, don’t just say you value integrity. Instead, describe how you work to do the right thing, and show real examples. Patagonia, again, understood this with its “Worn Wear” concept. In exchange for used Patagonia clothing, the brand gives credit toward purchases in Patagonia stores and repairs or recycles the goods. This way, the gear’s life is extended, and it cuts down on consumption, helping the planet. The brand writes on the website: “One of the most responsible things we can do as a company is make high-quality stuff that lasts for years, so you don't have to buy more of it.” Patagonia reinforces its values, its image and, as a result, sells more while encouraging people to buy less. Genius isn’t it? 


With consumers relentlessly questing for authenticity and truth, brands are challenged to find what they stand for and share it with the world. Those who don’t, might as well step aside, because they will have a hard time reaching and engaging their audience. Those who do will be better positioned to grow their business organically and build powerful bonds with a loyal following along the way. 

So, are you ready to get real?   

A The Consultancy Group article, written by Justine Gilliot

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