Think back to your 7-year old self, playing outside on a hot summers day. Suddenly you hear the ding-ding-ding of an ice cream van rolling down the street… ICE CREAM! You bolt inside to beg your parents for some money, hurrying them along in case the van drives on before you get out there. What a rush!

Could you imagine having this sort of control over your target market? Figuratively rolling down the street in your car ringing a bell and having them flock to you in droves, demanding your product?

While you may never quite have the fervour of an audience of hot 7-year olds craving ice cream to cool them down, it is possible to tap into the psychological cogs working behind the scenes to cause this sort of reaction.

By understanding and catering to your customers’ values in life. Not their demographics (how old they are, where they live, etc), but their values.

What are values?

Our values are the built-in principles that drive our behaviour in life, made up of our beliefs and ideals culminating from our culture, family, and our own life experiences. They are (often) an unconscious list of hierarchal importance in our lives.

Whatever you do is done to fulfil a value.

Values are not lofty ideals that make us be better people; your behaviours may be moving you towards pleasurable values (like good health) or away from painful values (like not feeling trapped).

For most of us, stealing is an unacceptable behaviour, but to someone with no money and hungry dependents, they may steal food in order to remain true to their values – moving them towards positive (providing for their family) and away from painful (failing their family).

While values are subjective and differ person-to-person, there’s often dominate ones. A stay-at-home mum likely values family most, while a CEO likely values their career most, or a personal trainer may value their health and fitness above all.

It’s not a straightforward topic, but understanding what values are and the role they play will help you gain better insights into your target market.

How do values relate to business?

All of our behaviours are the result of internally processing some external event. If you’re shopping around for an expensive new TV, and you’re talking to multiple sales people, your unconscious mind is putting the information you’re receiving (the product, the pitch, the salesman, etc) through a set of internal filters – one of which are your values.
Once processed through these filters, you action certain behaviours.

What’s important to note is that these filters, and your values, specifically, are relative to what you perceive. In the TV-buying example, some people may not care what the salesman looks or sounds like, and so it’s not a factor in their internal representation of “Do I buy here and now, or not?”

Others may be relying purely on what the salesman is saying to guide their purchasing decisions, and so they’re evaluating the salesman (“do I like/trust him?”) more than the product itself.

Knowing who your ideal customer is, and who’s walking through your door will help you cater for:

  1. what they’re actually evaluating
  2. what values they’re evaluating against.

With this information, you can adjust what your brand values are, to match those of your target audience, and develop your sales process and staff around those values.

Working out your customers’ values

The best possible way to elicit your ideal customers’ values is to ask them directly, if you can. Otherwise create personas around your definition of your ideal customer, and hypothetically ask the right questions to that persona.

The formal neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) method for eliciting values is to ask:
“What is important to you in the context of [topic]”

John Janstch, author of ‘The Referral Engine’ suggests a more casual approach. Here are some questions inspired by Janstch to get you started:

  • What brings joy to their life? Is it time with family, less stress, wealth?
  • What causes them to worry? Is it money, being cheated, or failing?
  • What challenges do they face? Stress, fear, isolation?
  • What do they hope to gain from working with / buying from us? Fortune, convenience, control?
  • What goals are they striving to attain? Fame, fortune, pleasure?
  • Who do they trust the most? Parents, news media, spouse?

Not all of these questions may have answers, but the answers you can get should give you insights into what your ideal customer values in life.

Look below the surface of the water, as well. Many people won’t know their own values, if they haven’t specifically stopped to think about it, because it’s largely an unconscious thing.

When I feel there may be more to an answer, like when people cite ‘money’ as something they value, I ask, “What would having money allow you to do?” This is an excellent way to make them think deeper and identify the value behind their desire.

Using your newfound knowledge

If you’ve accurately identified some common ground values in your target market, then you can align your brand values and your marketing message with your customers’ values.

Say for example you’re selling luxury men watches and your target market are dads who value their family as their number one priority, your marketing message could be: “Our watches keep you running on time, so you never run late to your son’s ball game”.

If your target market are dad’s who value their career as their number one priority (i.e., CEOs), then your marketing message may be: “Are the kids making your late for work? Our watches help you run on time, so you’ll never miss a meeting again.”

Even still, both of those examples are still pretty high level. Why does he want to be a great dad? Why does he want to make that meeting in time. Dig deeper:

  • What about that is important?
  • What do they want to get out of that?
  • What would it do for them to have that?

This lets you sell benefits that are aligned with your target market’s values, rather than just pushing the features of your product or service. This is what is really going to make people buy.

Hang on, I thought people bought based on emotions?

That’s right, they do.
And where does a person’s strongest emotions come from?
Their values.

Perhaps it might seem like a bit of a leap from a buying decision to a core value, but try it on for size. Think of your last big (or even small) purchasing decision, and ask yourself the three questions above. What did you find?

Perhaps you ran out and bought the latest and greatest TV, or a designer handbag. What could be the core value here? Perhaps you value being successful, so extravagant purchases and being the envy of your friends is how you’re fulfilling that value.

There was an unconscious internal process going on (one you consciously may not be aware of), as you stood in the store admiring the lifelike picture quality of that top-end 4k TV that ignored the rational factors in buying. You WANTED it because the idea of owning it made you FEEL good – you were filled with emotion.

The emotion made you buy it, but the core value made you feel the emotion.

If you want to trigger that emotion in your target market through your marketing, then you need to understand the core value that causes them to have that emotional response. Miss that, and your marketing may be a flop.
Get specific with your target market definition, create personas, and really know them. Then go and create effective marketing, and see the sales flow in.

Remember: People buy on emotions to fulfil a value.

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