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BCW’s Rebecca Grant: why values are the key to understanding people

We need to talk about values.

As communicators, we strive to engage audiences who may be restless and distracted, living through an era defined by pandemics, uncertainty, and unrest.

How, then, to build stronger connections in this time of fragmentation?

We believe that values hold the key. Formed in our adolescence, they are a persistent truth, more constant than attitudes, opinions, knowledge, or emotion.

The Movatory, a new business accelerator from BCW which helps clients better understand people’s behavior, is built around this ground-breaking approach.

Our ‘Age of Values 2023’ study is based on the responses of more than 36,000 people surveyed across 30 countries, with more than 30m data points which demonstrate how values drive people’s motivations which in turn influence their behaviour.

One key takeaway from the study is that values can be a more powerful predictor of people’s behavior than their age or income. Consequently, we believe that seeing people simply through the prism of demographic labels like Generation Z, Millennials and Boomers is over-simplistic.

We find, for example, that Generation Z significantly over-indexes in four of the 11 near universal values identified by the behavioral scientist Professor Shalom H Schwartz whose influential work has been validated by more than 100 studies.

These are Power, which drives individuals to seek social status and control over people; Hedonism, which motivates them to seek personal pleasure; Achievement which focuses on promoting personal success and Stimulation which drives a desire for excitement and new challenges.

Conversely, the values which Boomers over-index on are Universalism Nature, which emphasizes the need to protect nature, Conformity, which emphasizes restraint, and Tradition which fosters a respect for customs.

So if demographic labels are too reductive, how should we view people?

Age of Values 2023 suggests segmenting the global population into seven key archetypes – discrete groups built around blends of their most important values.

To again use the example of Generation Z, we find it over-indexes in four of these values archetypes. ‘The Success seeker’ is drawn by a combination of values which drive a desire for power and personal achievement; ‘The Adventurer’, seeks out stimulation and new experiences; ‘The Good Neighbor’ prizes the welfare of friends, family, and community; and ‘The Conformist’ wants to fit in and avoid confrontation.

Boomers, conversely, over-index in the three other archetypes identified in the report: ‘The Visionary’ is someone who prizes personal freedom and creativity; ‘The Protector’ is a person who prioritizes people and the planet; and ‘The Traditionalist’ is an individual drawn to safety, stability, and harmony.

The results, which can be found here, are fascinating.

What we do know now is that when we see people through their values we see them differently – more deeply, more emotionally, more intelligently. In an uncertain world this means can help clients navigate complexity and change and, ultimately, better connect with people.

Or, to put it another way, move them.

Rebecca Grant is BCW’s global chief brand officer.

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