Why It’s Good for Business When Customers Share Your Values

In competitive markets, shared values positively influence customer choice and increase loyalty.

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Values matter. Too often, however, they are relegated to the realm of fables instead of finance.

Take honesty, for example. We tell our children the story of the boy who cried wolf to teach them that when someone is dishonest, others are less likely to believe them the next time. But if we look just a tiny bit below the surface, the financial cost of the boy’s dishonesty immediately comes into focus: It results in the loss of his family’s entire flock of sheep.

If we calculated the loss caused by the boy crying wolf, we undoubtedly would find that it dramatically outweighed the combined gains generated by strategies like using AI-optimized grazing patterns, feeding the sheep a high-growth diet, or using consultant-recommended wool-marketing strategies. And yet, while all those things would clearly be considered business decisions, acting on values is not. But that’s wrong.

There is a very strong business case for acting on values. A $100 billion company I worked with discovered that there was a high return on investment from acting on its values and making sure customers knew about that. In fact, the return was many times greater than the ROI from its investments in upgraded technology or marketing campaigns. Yet the importance of technology and marketing are clearly understood as key areas of the business, while values-related impacts are left off of spreadsheets and are rarely — if ever — used to determine which actions have the highest ROI.

When I say values, I mean the kinds of values that are directed outward, toward doing good for the world and those who live in it. They include efforts such as combating the climate crisis, assisting people who have historically been excluded from job opportunities, and creating an open, inclusive environment for employees from different backgrounds.

These deeper values matter because they can be a key driver of business value in the domains of operations (increasing margins and reducing accident rates), risk (increasing resilience to crises), and employees (increasing productivity and innovation), as well as the more personal domain of leadership (making people more likely to follow you).

They also affect the behavior of customers. My company’s research has found that values:

  • Enhance customer preference. For example, in a study of U.S.



1. S. Kishan, “ESG by the Numbers: Sustainable Investing Set Records in 2021,” Bloomberg, Feb. 3, 2022, www.bloomberg.com.

2.Overview of Initial Lazard Climate Center Findings,” presentation, Lazard Climate Center, New York, December 2021.

3. D. Green, “How Whole Foods Went From a Hippie Natural Foods Store to Amazon’s $13.7 Billion Grocery Weapon,” Business Insider, May 2, 2019, www.businessinsider.com.

4. S. Worthington, “How Many Advertisements Do We See Each Day?” Telesian Technology (blog), April 15, 2014, https://telesian.com.

5. A. Harary and T. Ries, “Competence Is Not Enough,” Edelman, Jan. 19, 2020, www.edelman.com.

6. This example is drawn from a confidential company presentation at a corporate sustainability meeting in 2021.

7.Product Supply Chain Sustainability,” Walmart, accessed Jan. 24, 2024, https://corporate.walmart.com.

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Comment (1)
Stuart Roehrl
Very important article!  Valuable information.
Stuart Roehrl