Bringing brand values to the centre of the conversation

Sexual harassment, data security, gender equality and diversity – these are all issues which are influencing brand image and purchasing decisions the world over.

Hotwire talked to marketers, business decision makers and consumers globally to understand how high-stakes events are shaping buyer-perceptions, both business and consumer.

Matt Cross, Hotwire’s Head of B2B, EMEA, discusses the benefits brands can derive when they bring their core values to the centre of the conversations they are having with stakeholders.    

More than ever these days, brands recognise that consumers want companies to express clearly defined values that align with their own.

However, many businesses are not living and communicating their values regularly enough. Our report High-Stakes Leadership in a post B2B World found that 82% of global consumers would consider dropping a brand associated with a partner or supplier that handled a crisis issue in a way that violated their values.

In the UK, over half (65%) of business decision makers would terminate a business relationship within a week. 24% would take action within a single day. The backlash businesses can expect from poor handling of high stakes scenarios is fast and furious. Not only can organisations expect to lose business customers, but they should expect to lose them quickly.

Our report also found 40% of UK consumers have already walked away from brands due to unsatisfactory communications around high stakes events. Consumers overall have a strong awareness of their personal values. Those values influence their buying behaviour at least some of the time (68%) and 78% claim they would change their spending habits if a brand handled a high stakes issue in a way which contradicted their values.

Marketers and business decision makers are most worried by damage to brand reputation resulting from high stakes events. But our research shows that marketers recognise the potential for customer loss much more acutely than business decision makers. It’s time for business leaders to understand how critical the communication strategy is in a high-stakes environment, and the central role that brand values play in shaping that strategy.

These days everybody is listening and watching.

To prevent a high-stakes issues from violating the values of your customers, I would suggest there are four key actions brands and their communicators can take:

Check Your Mission:

Always check your company’s mission and purpose to gauge if it has a consumer-centric view that is broader than your products and services. Don’t just stand for anything, stand for something! And make sure that something is enough to shore up your distinct purpose in this world beyond selling a product or a service, even when the chips are down.

Pressure Test Your Values:

Evaluate your values to ensure they are clear, actionable and promote behaviour that will guide you in making the right decisions. Feel good fluff words may sound nice, but they are not enough to help you navigate the way when there’s little or no time for explanation. If you haven’t taken stock of your values and benchmarked the understanding of those values in the last three years, you should.

Value-based Communications:

Communicate top down and bottom up. Reinforce values by communicating how key business decisions factor into the values every step of the way. It should be second nature and muscle memory for the company. For example, if you are making a decision to change your recruiting process to avoid unconscious bias, you should share that with your organisation as a conscious decision based on your values such as equality, inclusion or diversity. Or, if you are adding a mandatory clause to your procurement process that means checking a vendor’s ethical standards, you should talk about why that is important to you as a brand. Do not simply assume your business decision makers will be on top of this.

Prepare the C-Suite:

A well-documented plan approved and ready to go is great in black and white… but we operate in a world of grey. As a communications leader, it’s your responsibility to build tolerance within your company on how far you are willing to take a stand on issues. Values are not just a people and culture tool; they should be brought into the boardroom on a regular basis. When you’re in the midst of dealing with a crisis issue, it’s too late in the day to be debating how far you’re willing to drive a decision based on values.

Hotwire is hosting a panel discussion on our UK findings at the Charlotte Street Hotel on May 15th. Please email for more details and we would be delighted if you can join us.

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash


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