The primacy of personal: what consumers value has shifted selfward

A global report from The Weber Shandwick Collective finds that what consumers value today is far more personal and less societal or social. Companies must understand what their customers value with greater granularity than ever before

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What people value can determine many of the decisions we make on a daily basis, big and small – especially our purchasing decisions. 

What we value also changes over time. Observing these changes is critical for brands to ensure they engage consumers. A new, multi-market report from the global strategic communications and consulting network, The Weber Shandwick Collective (TWSC), recently found that three out of four people surveyed globally say what they value has changed over the past five years. 

And guess what? It’s personal

Wave one of the report, The Primacy of Personal: What We Value, examined five levers of value: monetary, functional, emotional, social and societal – to find out what consumers want from brands. The research, which queried people across the UK, US and APAC (South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore), revealed that 42% of people surveyed say ‘personal emotional value’ is now the most important type of contribution from a company or brand and is twice as important as ‘social or societal value’. 

The covid-19 pandemic (37%) and a change in financial status (30%) were cited as the two biggest causes of this value shift. Gen Kobayashi, Weber Shandwick’s EMEA chief strategy officer, says other major global issues have played a part. “Macroeconomic factors, notably the pandemic, but also the cost of living crisis and political uncertainty, have had a huge impact on consumers’ lives and the choices they make when it comes to the brands they engage with.”

Companies must navigate this reputational tightrope carefully by taking the time to find out what their consumers do and don’t value

The report looks at two key areas of emotional value. The first, which respondents viewed as most important, refers to personal (“my own”) safety, security, health and happiness. The other is a desire for brands to provide entertainment, empowerment and excitement. But Kobayashi says nuance is key. “One person’s version of happiness can be very different from another person’s joy, at a different time, in a different space, in a different region, at a different age.”

To understand what consumers value, brands must listen to them. Social media communities and their subcultures present an opportunity to yield powerful insights. “Social media listening tools and AI can enable brands to automatically monitor and analyse what their target consumers are discussing,” says Kobayashi. These findings can then be used as a basis to engage consumers in meaningful conversations. “Ethnographic research, for example interviews, can be really useful to find out what people want from brands,” he adds. 

Some of the world’s biggest brands are doing this successfully by inserting themselves within the online communities occupied by consumers. TikTok is home to thousands of communities, from BookTok to CleanTok, some of which have billions of regular users discussing, creating and sharing content around their passions. Research by the social media platform found that 76% of users say they like it when brands are a part of special interest groups on TikTok, by creating content aligned with their values.

Shifting from super picky to super power

A campaign by Unilever’s largest nutrition brand, Knorr, and TWSC provides a window into a new world in which companies connect with consumers through specific individual values and needs. 

One in four people have a gene that makes vegetables taste bitter. They are not “picky” or “fussy.” It’s not simply that children don’t like eating vegetables. They are what scientists call genetic “supertasters.”

Kobayashi says the starting point to TWSC’s campaign with Knorr was different to previous marketing campaigns that may have tackled broader societal issues. “We asked ourselves: ‘how do we help mums and dads navigate a fraught dinner table full of arguments - where they’re trying to force their kids to eat healthier food?” he says. “We’ve created something that could help them in that moment and make nutritious meals more accessible and tastier for people.”

TWSC developed a solution to help supertasters enjoy a healthy, veggie-packed diet. Together with the Knorr R&D team, TWSC invented and launched the Supercube, a limited edition product made for a quarter of the population who are born with this gene, TAS2R38, to be exact. The product - which is an adapted version of the traditional stock cube - activates different taste receptors to change consumers’ perception of bitter flavours. 

Sweden was selected as a test market, where TWSC conducted a study to gain a deeper understanding of life with gene TAS2R38. This research revealed that 73% of participants were unaware of having the gene. The study also found that 77% of Swedish supertasters experience stigma regardless of life stage, as a direct result of their sensitivity. 

Over 30,000 gene test strips were sent to the public in one week, with supply going out of stock. Seventy percent (70%) of consumers who saw the campaign would buy the Supercube, 80% perceive Knorr as inclusive and 85% view Knorr as more innovative than before. Knorr aims to bring the Supercube to market in 2025.

Brand success lies in understanding what people value

TWSC’s research found that 90% of respondents would take a positive action if a brand helps them to live what they value. Among younger groups, it’s even higher - 94% of gen-Z and 94% of millennials - showing a strong inclination towards value-driven purchasing in younger generations. But there are serious risks involved for companies whose actions conflict with consumer values. Some 83% said they would be willing to take a negative action, such as telling their friends and family about a bad experience or boycotting the brand. 

In 2024, companies must navigate this reputational tightrope carefully by taking the time to find out what their consumers do and don’t value with greater granularity than ever before. By applying this thinking to strategic initiatives and taking meaningful steps to engage with what matters most to consumers, brands can provide meaningful value.

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