Dear Clients: We’re Not Going to Change Your Values. You Do.

It’s the question every brand marketer knows: how can we represent customers better than our clients do? Over the years, many brands have decided to tackle the challenge with new campaigns, hiring new marketing and advertising executives, and adopting a toned-down tone to take advantage of the expertise of those around them. I joined a small restaurant business that was thinking about how to represent its customers. Despite significant improvements in the business, including improving the experience of customers, the culture of the business was still noticeably resistant to change. The group of managers, ownership, and founders seemed to be uninterested in the increasing brand standard of balance of purpose, personal responsibility, and social responsibility. They were the ones promoting negative stereotypes about other industries. Additionally, none of them had shared a voice to advocate for change.

Forget Focus Groups, It’s Time to Ask Your Clients

I later looked into the business further to discuss their attitude toward culture with one of their advisors. That advisor did not talk about keeping our little restaurant business a family-run bakery and a great place to visit. Instead, they talked about selling. The advisor promised that if we sold, we could be all things to all people, perhaps have a slow “death march” or a “slow move” to a larger locale. The advisor also talked about having better relationships with outside agencies. He wanted to give up a little bit of control by engaging a company to help us improve on many aspects of our relationship.

Saving the establishment was at the core of what I was asked to do. But if something else was also at the core of the advisor’s initial plan, it was possible to trade off between wanting both goals to be met. During our interview, however, I kept hearing that if our restaurant were to go through a slow pace and slip into irrelevance, and he was adamant that the restaurant be sold, then my voice would be worth nothing and I would have to go work at an agency. This is the type of employee I needed to talk about the values and purpose of the restaurant and why we should not sell for them. And the client wanted me to be the best advocate of their brand; and we both agreed that our respective roles on the team made it easier for me to keep talking with their team about their needs, goals, and culture of teamwork.

Today, the restaurant is thriving and is receiving a major expansion. The restaurant’s owner is proudly accepting offers from potential buyers, as he has a strong desire to continue growing the business.

The conversations surrounding this acquisition are not unique to this restaurant. The same thing happens with others. I myself have seen many times when every client, professional, or potential customer has plans to sell or close their business. What seems to be happening is that the core values and goals are changing, without anyone ever discussing a new path for the business. Asking buyers to change their core values is a risky strategy. Even if, for example, some of those interests change, if there is not a fundamental change in direction of what’s valued in the business, then the sellers face being wrong-footed, without understanding what they’re selling into and how they can maintain those core values. This is leading to more trouble.

There are many business owners in the United States that are trying to sell their business, and from the perspective of the client they shouldn’t be asked to change the values of their business. Even if their growth is slowing or they are losing a major customer, it shouldn’t mean that they have to change their core values. This is something that should be challenged at every level. In many cases, we just need to get our founders, partners, and employees all talking, in their own words. Knowing that someone is hearing what the company stands for, and needing a copy of the mission statement, should be a big motivator. At Blue Brands, we encourage clients and their employees to share similar values and goals.

In today’s marketplace, consumers are more discerning. Studies show that as much as 70 percent of consumer decision-making is influenced by their social networks. If your business model represents something different from what is seen on social media, by the time your social media does change, you have a lot of listening to do. Being authentic, outspoken, and present on social media is the new luxury in the marketplace. You need to be vocal about your differences with less censorship and be vocal about who you are, what you stand for, and what you value.

This article first appeared on Red Brands.

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