There’s a lot of back and forth about the value of online “engagement” for businesses.
Do customers want more engagement with the businesses they frequent? Do they care about it? Does the word engagement actually mean anything at all? Or is it just another feel-good buzzword?
A recent article from Harvard Business Review asserts that customers don’t care much about interaction with businesses — instead they feel most engaged (and buy more) when they believe they share values with the company.
HBR’s position is that customers want to share a “higher purpose” with business. This is extremely fashionable at the moment, with businesses all over the web switching to taglines that start with the words: We believe.
So do customers care what you believe?
For some businesses, the answer is clearly Yes. Matt Frazier over at No Meat Athlete runs a values-based business. Brands like Patagonia and Prius get a lot of mileage out of building a tribe around shared values.
But for dog food? Software? Web design? Air travel?
The Zappos model
One of the poster children for the “values” argument is Zappos — the online shoe store that operates around a celebrated set of core values.
Zappos uses their value statement as a kind of corporate DNA. Values like “Deliver WOW through service” and “Pursue growth and learning” let employees and customers know who the company is.
Their values statement informs the way the company looks and behaves. It tells the company how it should grow. It’s the template for the decisions they make and the processes they put into place.
Their core values are such an important part of Zappos that they print them on the packaging.
So the question becomes — what is it that’s attracting the customer? Is it the statement of values on the side of the shoe box? Or is it the embodiment of values in the behavior of their employees?
Marketing is communication …
My definition of marketing is “Everything you communicate to your customers and prospects.”
Note that “communication” isn’t always explicit. It isn’t even always conscious.
We ran through a Zappos-style values exercise at our recent all-hands company meeting for Copyblogger Media. And the conversations were fascinating.
Did we unearth any values that truly surprised anyone? Not really. We believe in making our customers more powerful. When there are problems, we believe in pitching in together to make things right. We treat each other with kindness and respect.
It was the process of articulating and sharing them that created the benefit. Maybe it’s as simple as standing up and saying that Yes, we believe in profit — but that’s not the only thing we believe in.
So do you need a Zappos style values statement?
Sitting down together and figuring out your values can be a silly corporate time-waster, or it can be a meaningful and moving process. What makes the difference?
For me, working on our values with our whole team was tremendously powerful. (That’s a technique I stole from Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO.) Our developers and support crew and writers and designers are all very different from one another — but seeing how similar we were in certain ways was eye-opening. And cool.
For another, we weren’t trying to come up with messages to print on the side of a shoe box. We were trying to figure out our own best selves — how to behave in line with our strongest, wisest internal compass. And that translates directly into how we treat people — customers, guest writers, colleagues, vendors, prospects — everyone.
It’s still all about them. Always.
Back to the dog food and air travel question. Harvard Business Review asserts that people fly Southwest because they share the value of “democratization of air travel,” and buy Pedigree dog food because they share the value that “every dog deserves a loving home.”
Does that ring true to you? It doesn’t to me.
People buy the kind of dog food that they think will keep their dog happy and healthy, and that fits their family budget.
People fly Southwest because the people who work there are nice and the fares are cheap.
The values inside those companies may very well help deliver what customers want. Southwest’s values are key to that nice, friendly work force. Their values also allow them the efficiency to keep fares ultra low.
The secret isn’t necessarily in the values. It’s in giving customers what they want.
So if your values statement exists to make you feel awesome about yourself, maybe you should skip it. But if it helps you give customers exactly what they want, the way they want it, you’re probably on to something.
How about you?
Ever sat down and tried to figure out a formal values statement for your company, whether as a team or for yourself as a professional?
What was the most interesting thing you learned? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.