Brand values vs. attributes: the change is real

The most refreshing soda. The crunchiest snack. The fastest internet connection. Attributes like these have become so common in communication strategies that many people just don’t fall for them anymore. Do you want to know why? Two big reasons: the first one is noise. For example, a snack can be as crunchy as ever, but it is hard for an attribute like this to stand out when twenty competitors are claiming pretty much the same thing at the same time. Thing is, people don’t really care if a snack is 5% more crunchier than other: both end up falling under the same category. If noise is high, our brains tend to simplify. Yes, we get it, you’re all crunchy, but we stopped caring a while ago. Too bad!

On the other hand, attributes function in a (sort of) predictable way: if you want them to become valuable attributes that work for your brand, they need to be unique. This way, people can easily associate them with the brand. The bad news is that even if this is the case, they will fade over time. Let’s use the fast internet connection example: unless you’re living in a sparsely populated rural area, chances of having a handful of reliable, fast internet providers at your disposal are high. High-speed internet was a great attribute fifteen years ago, but the scenario changed and the once good attribute faded in the background. Furthermore, this happens to most brand attributes out there. Building brands on attributes is like building houses on soft foundations. Yet many communication strategists keep falling for them. The why is something that escapes our comprehension.

To be fair, many brands – big and small – have realized that attributes are flaky and shifted their strategies towards the use of values. Good examples are Coca-Cola and Apple. ‘Marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. These aren’t our words, but Steve Jobs’. The opinion of former Apple’s CEO acts as a powerful argument here: the brand he used to command had many unique attributes, and despite that, he chose to build upon values. He envisioned Apple as something bigger than the unique attributes of their products. Apple is not a state-of-the-art phone; instead, Apple is pure, functional innovation. Today it’s a phone, but tomorrow it might be a self-driving car. Who knows? The only certain thing is that they’ll keep using the same value as a guiding light for their communication strategy.

Apple has always been an innovative brand, but the shift from attributes to values can be observed in traditional brands as well. Coca-Cola did it a few years ago, relying on the ‘happiness’ value. Now they’re taking things even further: the new value of choice is ‘feeling’. Both are values that can translate into pretty much everything one can imagine. Brand managers, communications strategists, and consumers are more eager to develop a strong relationship with the brand through values: it’s easier to for them to relate to feelings than to the beverage’s refreshing attributes.

The same principle can work for every brand out there. Choosing to communicate values over attributes is nothing but a win-win situation. Values enable a whole new world for brands, and they offer much more possibilities than the use of attributes.