A Public Lesson: Speak to Your Advocates’ Values

August 19, 2014
Shannon Manning, Associate Vice President, Advocate Engagement

The Public Affairs Council (PAC) recently posted a blog on the great expectations people hold for businesses. Sharing results from PAC’s new survey, the article discusses the widespread public wish for companies to demonstrate strong social values—serving as ethical actors, guardians of the environment, community service providers—and other benevolent roles. The public expects businesses to be about more than jobs and revenue; they expect them to play an active, positive role in society. We think this brings up some great parallel lessons for developing effective advocacy brands.

In order to have public (or at least target audience) appeal, advocacy brands also need to be about more than just the bottom line on policy issues and what’s good for the organization sponsoring the advocacy program. The program needs to have a larger, values-driven brand promise that gives participants something meaningful to work for and a bigger reason to participate than simply affecting a specific piece of legislation. Even ad hoc programs focused on a specific legislative or regulatory outcome need to tie their objective to the broader, underlying values that motivate advocates to care about that issue.

People connect to an advocacy program based on personal values, and once connected, they will take action on a range of legislative or regulatory issues—as long as those issues connect to the values that brought them to the program in the first place.

Here are a few key steps to help build your program effectively around relatable values:

1.) First, know your target audiences’ values. In order to recruit and connect people to your program, you have to identify what their values are in the first place. Driven by market research, this insight should help define your messaging and ongoing communications strategy.

2.) Focus on the program’s mutual benefit. Advocates receive real value for joining an advocacy program when they feel that participating in the program is a good use of their time. To that end, it is crucial to structure the program experience around the advocates’ values rather than the company’s or industry’s; ideally, the organization will find the points where the advocates’ values intersect with theirs and make those points the focus of the advocate experience.

3.) Stick to your priorities. Once you’ve identified the values that matter most to your advocates and tied them to your program, stay consistent and abide by those values. It’s not enough to say you stand for something; that has to play out in how you run your program. As new issue campaigns arise, be careful not to contradict a value that you previously preached.

To give a good example of these steps in application, we recently helped a client build their program explicitly structured around this model. Based on the client’s research, we identified four core “value areas” that consumers indicated were most important to them when it came to the client’s industry and issues: building a stronger economy, supporting innovation and sustainability, ensuring fair access for all consumers, and creating greater security for the citizens of the states in which the client operates. As we built out a messaging platform and content for the program, we connected all of the legislative and regulatory issues to one or more of those four core values, and we framed the conversation about each issue based on those connections. Within the first two months, the program recruited more than 7,500 individuals to learn more and stay engaged in the program. Notably, fewer than 1% of these individuals were employees of the organization. The rest were members of the public representing the entire political spectrum.

Just as consumers are more loyal to brands that they believe truly stand for the social values that are important to them, advocates demonstrate deeper, longer-term loyalty to advocacy brands that they believe credibly represent what matters most to them when it comes to industries and their issues. Because loyal advocates ultimately deliver much greater value in return in terms of the impact they can have, taking the time to find out what motivates your target audiences, build your strategy around it, and stay true to that strategy is worth the investment.

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