Nathalie Nahai: The psychology of core values in marketing

Our resident psychologist casts her eye over the topic of core values…what are they and why do they matter to brands?

In recent years, the idea of ‘core values’ as a concept upon which to base our businesses, brands and marketing strategies, has seen a huge rise in popularity. Countless talks and campaigns have attempted to drive home the importance of this nebulous thing, from Simon Sinek’s famous TED lecture, ‘Start with why’[1], to the concrete ‘one-for-one’ business model propagated by Toms Shoes. But what exactly are values? And why are they important in marketing?

Well, if we take the accepted psychological definition, values are the “priorities, internal compasses or springboards for action” [2], which we use to guide the decisions we make. On a day-to-day basis, values are the subjective judgments that help us ascertain how important something is to us relative to something else – for example you may judge that it’s more important that you enjoy your work than earn more money doing something you don’t like.

Whatever judgments you make, whether on a personal, social or business level, your values (whether implicit or explicit) provide the map with which to chart the course.

So how does this apply to marketing? While I’m hesitant to quote an over-cited man, Steve Jobs did have an excellent point to make on this particular subject in his 1997 address to Apple employees: “To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”[3]

Jobs’ address is as relevant today as it was then, and this is because values are an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. They’re at the heart of how we choose to live our lives, and in a world in which we’re increasingly connected, the greatest point of differentiation between one brand and the next will be how they relate to us on an identity level. It’s this crucial point of differentiation, of intimately understanding what drives your customers, that has contributed to the success of campaigns such as Mini’s #mininotnormal[4], and Patek Philippe’s famous watch adverts.

In the case of Mini, it observed that its customers, with their quirky, anthropomorphic relationship with their cars, considered themselves outliers – to the extent that when they talked about their Minis, one could be forgiven for thinking that they had distinct personalities of their own. So when Mini designed a whole piece of marketing around this, in which it made its customers the protagonists, the campaign was a roaring success. Over the course of a British summer, it used digital billboards to tailor personal messages to Mini owners as they drove by, playing on their special relationship with their cars with messages such as “Fancy a cold drink? And some juice for your Mini?”

When interviewed about the success of this campaign, Shaun McIlrath, executive creative director of agency Iris said: “Mini drivers love their cars so much they are more like fans than owners. It’s a relationship that’s NOT NORMAL. We wanted to give everyone a taste of what it feels like to own one through a campaign that was true to the spirit of Mini.”[5]

Patek Philippe on the other hand, chose to take an altogether different route. To justify the price tag and elevate the brand from an oversaturated market, its marketers focused on values that transcend money and time: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”. By implicitly expressing values around the importance of family, heritage and legacy, Patek’s famous slogan has since become one of the most memorable, even for people who are unlikely to ever buy one of its watches in their lives.

Ultimately, if you want to succeed in this overcrowded age, you don’t just need something that will help you reach out to people in a way that is more personal and more meaningful than ever before. You also need a process that will help you make the best decisions about how to connect with your customers. As the wonderful Roy Disney, nephew to Walt, said: “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” [6]

Follow Nathalie Nahaï at: or Twitter: @NathalieNahai

Citations for this article:


[2] Oyserman, D. (2001). Values: Psychological Perspectives. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, pp. 16150–16153

[3] Steve Jobs (1997). Address to Apple employees: http://youtube/vmG9jzCHtSQ

[4]Flock Associates – BMW Mini: Not Normal! Integrated campaign by Iris Worldwide (2013)

[5] (2014). Best Awards: Best consumer campaign nominees. Campaign: Mini Not Normal:

[6] D. Willardson, R. Disney (Foreword) (2008) The Disney Art of David Willardson. Insight Editions.