In business, what do you stand for?

If you don’t already know then you’d better figure it out like yesterday. Because if you want to sell people your stuff, you’re going to have to decide what your values are and market the hell out of them. Having a kickass product isn’t enough for today’s shoppers — folks want to know that the people they’re throwing their dollars at care about the same stuff they do.

Yes, dudes, we’re firmly in the grip of values-based marketing. And whether that turns out to be a good thing for you, or whether it turns into a total shit show that leaves people literally HATING your business, depends on one thing:

Are your values genuine?

The world is teeming with business owners who’re jumping on whatever cause seems on trend right now — climate change, the #metoo movement, whatever — and using it to sell more stuff.

But here’s the thing: as consumers our bullshit detectors are off the charts!

So yeah, we see that you’ve reduced the plastic in your packaging, Mr CEO, but we also see that you treat your employees like shit, or your product inherently feeds the single-use culture your customers are actively railing against.

Now, instead of just being unethical, you’re deceptive too. Congrats for sinking even lower!

Of course, lovely people, we know that you’re not going to do anything as icky as Mr CEO there, but it’s far too easy to get values-based marketing wrong even when you don’t hang your hat on a specific “cause”.

You had one job to do!

Take the co-working space that Rachel hired in NYC recently for one of her client intensives. They marketed themselves as this super cool space that’s based on wellness, support, and having a positive impact — they believe in “doing good”. Decent values to have, right?

Only, they couldn’t actually deliver any of that.

Not only did they fail to provide Rachel with ANY of the stuff she’d ordered (and we’re talking about things that they do actually offer — not exactly “a bowl of M&Ms with all of the brown ones removed” territory) — but they actually double-booked the room she was supposed to be using for her meeting.

The best bit? As way of an apology, they tried to get Rachel to take a calming beverage! Unfortunately Rachel was more in the mood for a gin than a green juice infused with maca powder, unicorn tears, and whatever mushrooms they’d foraged from Central Park…

And the thing is, it wouldn’t have taken much for them to turn things around: a sincere apology and a decent attempt to sort things out would’ve gone a long way towards making Rachel feel calm, supported, and positive. No maca powder or gin required!

Because living your values, as a business, doesn’t have to be hard work. It really is as simple as deciding what’s important to you and your customers, and delivering the goods.

The hidden value of a $20 crayon.

Like Illana’s kid’s favorite toy shop, Kid Garden. This is a toy shop that shares the values of the parents who shop there. They stock high-quality, non-plastic toys made by small businesses. Everything in the store is accessible for the kids with little play stations at exactly the right height for tiny people and drawing stations at the back where kids can chew on $20 (all-natural!) crayons while parents relax for half a second.

The staff are super-friendly and genuinely seem to like being surrounded by over-excited toddlers. Even the branding screams the store’s values with its gorgeous flower design carved into a wooden sign.

Sure, the stuff they sell costs a little more, but they really do go the extra mile to justify the extra dollars. All of their actions show that their values are genuine, that they care about the kids’ wellbeing AND the sanity of frazzled parents.  But they never do it in a preachy way. Like you don’t feel guilty if you take your kid for a cupcake full of refined sugar afterwards (which Illana definitely did!)

And because of that people (read: Illana) WANT to spend their money there — they actually go out of their way to find reasons to spend.

That’s the beauty of values-based marketing — as long as it’s done well, it makes EVERYONE feel good. Your customers get the products they want and feel all warm and fuzzy about it because they’re supporting a business that’s doing great things. And you feel amazing because you’re making money, gaining a loyal customer base, and doing it all without having to sell your soul.

Remember the bullshit detector.

So how do you make it work for you?

Don’t overcomplicate it — have a think about what really, genuinely matters to you in business. Is it about supporting other small business owners? Is it about buying local ingredients or fair-trade products? Or is it simply about treating your customers like individuals rather than walking credit cards? Whatever it is, once you’ve decided on your values, they have to come through in everything you do, everything you say in your marketing, and in all of your interactions with your customers.

No lip-service or pandering allowed!