For some companies, customers are like onions, full of layers and potential but difficult to identify through watering eyes. For other companies – those with a deep and intimate understanding of their customers – they are like parfait, rich, rewarding and fattening (in a good way) to the bottom line. Discover how Bill Clinton, Shrek and Donkey plus the fishmongers at Seattle Pike Place Fish Market can help you increase revenue and become a more customer centric company. By connecting with people’s value systems you can transform your customers from onions into parfait, and according to Donkey – an authority on the subject – everyone loves parfait!

Through our research, we’ve identified a method of developing marketing campaigns and customer experiences that connect with people’s driving value systems. The results have been exceptional. For one client we increased total company revenues by 300%, for another we increased sales of key product line by over 70%; and for a leading bank we doubled response rates for a direct mail campaign targeting a saturated market. In this article, Dean van Leeuwen, co-founder of TomorrowToday UK, explores how generational and values-focused marketing can assist your business in building stronger relationships that boost sales and retention.

FROM SHREK, the movie (Dreamworks Animation, 2001):

SHREK: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.

DONKEY: Example?

SHREK: Example? Okay, um, ogres are like onions. (holds out an onion)

DONKEY: (sniffs the onion) They stink?

SHREK: Yes – – No!

DONKEY: They make you cry?


DONKEY: You leave them in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.

SHREK: No! Layers! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers! Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers. (he heaves a sigh and then walks off)

DONKEY: (trailing after Shrek) Oh, you both have layers. Oh. {Sniffs} You know, not everybody likes onions. Cake! Everybody loves cakes! Cakes have layers.

SHREK: I don’t care… what everyone likes. Ogres are not like cakes.

DONKEY: You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious.

SHREK: No! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story. Bye-bye. See ya later.

DONKEY: Parfaits may be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet.

SHREK: You know, I think I preferred your humming.

DONKEY: Do you have a tissue or something? I’m making a mess. Just the word parfait make me start slobbering.

This is one of my favourite movie scenes and Donkey always makes me laugh. It also gets me thinking: customers are like Shrek – they have layers! It’s this complex and wonderful diversity of human nature that makes segmentation and customer insights such an important yet difficult task.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a method of unravelling the layers to gain deeper, more intimate customer relationships – a way of understanding your customers’ driving compulsions? We believe there is, and call it values-focused marketing. The solution is simpler than you imagine, it won’t cost tens of thousands of pounds to implement, nor will it require expensive customer relationship management IT upgrades.


Back in 1986 the owner of Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, John Yokoyama, decided to become world famous. Not for selling fish, mind you, but for giving people a unique customer experience. He accomplished this without spending a penny on advertising, but by giving each person visiting the market an experience of having been served and appreciated, whether they bought fish or not.

Employees at the Pike Place Fish Market live and breathe a simple four-point philosophy focused on connecting with customers: It’s your attitude (to enjoy or not to enjoy your job); make their (the customer’s) day; be there (be present – give the customer your full attention); and -last but not least – have fun. Using this simple approach they have built a multi-million dollar business. So successful have the fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market become that they are now regularly asked by FTSE 100 executives to give advice on running businesses.

The fish market has become an institution, and worthy of a visit should you go to Seattle. As the market passes its century mark (the first stalls opened in 1907) it has become a popular destination for both locals and tourists. The Market is at its best in the morning when vendors are setting up, and the place is fresh and full of energy with low flying fish everywhere.

What the owners of The Pike Place Fish market have been geniuses at achieving is taking a very smelly product (let’s be honest here) and focusing not on the product but rather on connecting with people’s core values and building relationships.

People want to be noticed, made to feel special, be appreciated, and people want to have fun. It is the ability to connect at a deep personal-values level, similar to a level on which we connect with friends, that has made this fish market such a huge commercial success.


We often ask our clients to consider the relationship they have with their customers by answering a simple question: Would your customers regard you as a friend? Most companies answer ‘no’ and here lies, we believe, the root cause behind why so many companies struggle to build lasting customer relationships. Years of customer neglect and indifference have made customers cynical and jaded and yet the new world of work demands that organisations build stronger, closer relationships with their customers. People seek relationships. They want a place to be heard, a place to be appreciated and a place to connect. New social technologies now allow companies to build personal relationships with customers akin to the corner café or local village butcher. Facebook and twitter offer excellent examples of how people have used technology to drive our most primal human need – social interactions. Customers want to connect with companies, they are actively seeking relationships with those companies genuinely interested in forging mutually beneficial relationships. Think about Wikipedia, Amazon, ebay and Google Wave. Connecting on a personal level can place you ahead of the competition in winning the hearts and minds of your customers. Ignoring this new trend means being left behind and becoming irrelevant to customers.

The crux of values-focused marketing is to connect with people on a more personal values level. At the heart of a values-focused company is the promise of a mutually beneficial relationship.

Michael Argyle and Monika Henderson at Oxford University, conducted research on friendships and have identified a number of universal rules, which they published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships  The rules included: Friends must provide support, respect privacy, preserve confidences and be tolerant of other friendships. These are all rules that companies could adhere to. It can therefore be argued that companies can form friendships with customers. A lot though would have to change. How many companies tolerate or even encourage their customer “friends” to use competing brands?

A relationship is a two way street involving committed communication in both directions, the sharing of dreams, aspirations and even tolerating mistakes in a non-judgemental and emotionally secure environment. This is not something companies have been good at doing. They haven’t even had a mechanism to attempt to engage in this way. But now the internet and new social media innovations make it possible for companies to enter into meaningful two-way dialogues with their customers.

We believe that companies, who focus of deep meaningful relationships, by connecting with people’s values will be the champions of the future.


Business is about people, at least it should be, and so there is a possibility of a friendship of sorts – a connection of values between a company and their customers. When we make friends we build relationships with people who share our values, our outlook, our interests – people who demonstrate that they are on a similar wavelength to us and most importantly are interested in us in a mutually beneficial way. Values-focused companies therefore need to be connecting their company values with the values that matter most to the people who work for them and those who buy from them.

Value systems are our roadmap in life, our driving compulsion and our worldview of what we believe is right or wrong, weird or normal, good or bad. Psychologists and sociologists agree that by the age of ten our value system is largely in place. This is a scary concept for parents with young children because it means that you have ten years in which to influence their values. The teen years are about testing the value system, and parents with teenagers know this sends you around the bend. But by the age of twenty our values are largely entrenched, imbedded in our conscious and subconscious minds.

Importantly, values influence our behaviour and attitudes throughout our lives. Being able to identify peoples’ values and connecting with them therefore offers massive benefits to companies. A tool that we have been using over the past ten years to assist companies in identifying people’s value system is Generational Theory.

Generational theory is a well researched and documented model of how people from the same generation display similar value systems – worldviews or outlooks on life.  Our value systems are shaped and formed during our formative years, by world events as well as the prevailing “mood in society” towards important things like money, work, marriage and family. Importantly, because our driving values are embedded at a young age, they do not change much over time. This is one of the reasons why we will never really become like our parents as we age. It is also one of the key benefits behind using generational theory in business – you can predict behaviour and attitudes.


The theory of generations has proven to be extremely popular in the mainstream media and with pop psychologists who have picked up on labels like Baby Boomers, Generation X and Gen Y as convenient ‘sound bites.’ Of course, common sense tells us that we live in a diverse society – a broad label could never accurately describe an entire generation. Thus, the more these labels are hyped, the more suspicious we become of how generational labels can be practically applied in business. This suspicion is well founded and ultimately has resulted in the generalisation of generations. In a business context it would be wasteful to use generations in a generalised manner.

To make a valuable impact to your business and to be incorporated with a values-focused marketing framework, generational theory needs rigorous application and in-depth understanding and insights.

A generation is defined as “the average interval of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring.” This makes a generation approximately 20–25 years in time span. While in the past this may have served sociologists well, for marketers, using these parameters would be ineffectual. Unlike the definition sociologists use, we define a generation as a group of people who:

  • Grew up during the same economic, educational and technological times
  • Were shaped by the same social markers and events.
  • Now share the same life stage
  • Share a common worldview / set of values

Using this definition, companies can identify key events (globally and locally) that were shaping and forming the mood in society during the formative years of the customers they are targeting.


The most important aspect in using generations as an instrument to becoming a values-focused company, is to make generations “local.”  This may seem obvious and yet we come across countless examples of companies applying generational frameworks in the UK using the more widely known American framework and dates. Doing this makes the application of generations irrelevant. As with any business and marketing tool, generations can only deliver value when supported by rigorous application and in-depth understanding of your local customer base.

When the media and most generational theorist use Generations they invariably use data and research coming out of the United States – Baby Boomers in the US are defined as people born between 1943 and 1960. Consider Bill Clinton, born in 1946, the first Baby Boomer US president. He is a quintessential Baby Boomer – ambitious, driven, successful and larger than life. Now compare him with Gordon Brown, younger by just four and a half years.  So is Gordon Brown also a Baby Boomer? Not really, our research shows that Gordon Brown displays values more closely aligned to the generation before the Boomers, the “Silent Generation”. If we were to use the American framework of generations this would not make sense. However, using TomorrowToday’s Euro-sensitised approach to generations, the reasons for these differences becomes clear.

Immediately after World War 2, economic prosperity and great optimism became the prevailing social mood shaping personal values in the United States. In Europe and the UK the sense of euphoria following victory in Europe was quickly replaced by the reality of rebuilding a war-ravaged continent. Rationing remained and it wasn’t until 1952 that the benefits from the Marshal Plan, which pumped over $13 billion of economic aid into European countries was felt. Our research shows that in the UK and Europe, only people born between 1953 – 1963 display what is considered typical Baby Boomer values.

The difference between Gordon Brown and Bill Clinton can be further explained when we include the concept of cuspers in the mix. A cusper is someone born during the changeover period between one generation and the next. Social values and attitudes do not change immediately. Sometimes the change can be dramatic, but at other times social values change more slowly. In addition to this, some countries lead the social change and others lag behind. Our research shows that Gordon Brown is a Baby Boomer cusper. In the UK the transition from Silent Generation to Baby Boomers took longer than it did in the States because, due to historical events, the prevailing mood in society took longer to change.

The UK Baby Boomer cusper generation lasted longer than it did in the US and their values were shaped and formed by different events to their US counterparts. As a result of local events, the UK has a different type of Baby Boomer. Using the traditional US generational dates for both the UK and Europe makes absolutely no sense to companies working in Europe – or elsewhere around the world. Over the past ten years TomorrowToday has worked in over forty countries localising generations. To add further to our considerable insights we are conducting research with GFK NOP, the third largest market research company in the world, to make generations more Eurocentric.


1.    Map out your “company DNA”: Undertake a values mapping exercise to identify the values your customers experience when interacting with your brand – through your marketing and more importantly the entire customer experience. You need to go further than just listing your company’s stated corporate and brand values. It’s important to focus on the DNA of “how things are done” in your business, from the customers’ perspective. List what the values currently are, and not what you would like them to be. Once your “living values” have been identified you can then overlay them with the values of your target customers to identify natural connections and disconnections. In practice we have found that involving people responsible for sales and service delivery results in a more realistic reflection of the actual values of a company. These values can be tested against customer experiences and perceptions, but you don’t always need to commission new customer research. Re-examining existing research and focusing on the language people are using will reveal new insights.

2.    Which generation is your company?: The next step is to ask yourself this question: “If our company was a person, based on the values we live, what would generation would our company be: A Baby Boomer? A Generation X? A Gen Y? A Silent Generation or even a cusper company? (You can also do this exercise with your competitors). Each company has a personality and set of values that has a greater attraction to one generation or another. For example, although Richard Branson founder of Virgin is a Baby Boomer, Virgin itself is not a Baby Boomer company. Virgin displays a list of values that can be described as being fun, informal, innovative and fresh – all values that appeal more to Generation X. It is therefore not surprising that Generation Xers have a natural affinity with Virgin.

3.    Stretch your values to appeal to other generations: Few companies target just one generation. Although you can choose to do so. Abercombie and Fitch provides a great example of a company that connects strongly with Gen Y values, at the exclusion of older generations. On the other hand Virgin stretches it’s brand and does not only appeal to Generation Xers. By cleverly positioning Richard Branson as a successful, ambitious and driven individual, Virgin has been able to appeal to the values of Baby Boomers. For Generation Xers, Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial and maverick nature are values that appeal to them. There is often a fine line to walk when appealing to different generations. This is because what turns on one generation often turns the other off.

4.    Develop the right values message and deliver through appropriate channels: Motor manufacturers like Mercedes are amongst the best in developing value propositions and marketing campaigns that appeal to multiple and differing values at the same time. The clever use of creative material, media placements and understanding of value connections can ensure that you are using the right values to target the right generation. The key here is to identify which values appeal to which generation, how best to make the values connection and then choose the most appropriate communication channel.

5.    Design marketing material to appeal to customer values: By tweaking the visuals, plus the tone and style of voice used in your marketing communications, you can appeal to the different value systems. The incremental cost of additional communication pieces is worth the investment when you consider that we’ve been able to double response and conversion rates by using the values-focused language and imagery. Demonstrating to your target customers that you “speak their language”, connect with their values and have a similar worldview are key to developing lasting and rewarding relationships.

6.    Tweak product features: Without designing a new product, you can tweak or highlight existing product features to appeal to the values of people from different generations. One of our banking clients had a product feature that allowed customers to use a joint income in the application even if they weren’t married. This feature allowed the bank to tailor the product around the client’s personal situation. The ability to be “flexible” and “customise” products has massive appeal to Generation X. By highlighting this feature and tapping into these Generation X personal value sales doubled.

7.    Tailor your customer experience and train delivery staff: A key advantage of using values-focused marketing is that it is age based. Therefore customers can be easily identified on your database as well as during the service or sales delivery. We’ve trained staff in retail outlets and call centres to use values language that builds stronger affinities and connections with their customers. Creating call scripts and training retail staff how to “speak” and interact with people from different generations using values language goes a long way to improving the customer experience. For one clients who operates a large debt collection call centre we adapt the script to call a Generation Xer by their first name, to ask a Baby Boomer which they would prefer – Sir, Mr/Mrs or first name (always give Baby Boomers the control to make a choice), and to always call a person from the Silent Generation by their surname. Along with other changes and training call centre operators to use value language we increased recollections by nearly 35% resulting in millions of pounds of to this business units bottom line. It is amazing how far tweaking simple customer experiences against generational values can go in forging stronger customer relationships.


Customers have changed, it’s not just the recession, there has been a values shift in societies attitudes towards business, finance and consumerism. Values-focused marketing using generational theory is not a panacea, a silver bullet. Nor does it re-invent the wheel. Rather it offers a philosophy for conducting business around developing deeper connections with the values of the people who matter most to your business – customers, internally and externally.

Our research undertaken in TomorrowToday’s laboratory is revealing that values-focused businesses are the way of the future. If you want your business and brand to be part of a new breed of talented companies and not to end up on the rust pile of corporate dinosaurs then your business needs to be built around connecting with people’s values.

The new world of work demands that companies focus their organisation around social and personal values and not just corporate values. Corporate values are the old model traditionally involving trust, integrity, honesty and innovation. These values are now only the base level. Companies need to be going deeper, connecting with more far-reaching personal values. People seek relationships with companies; they want a place to be heard, a place to be appreciated and a place to connect. New social technologies are allowing us to build relationships with customers previously not possible. Connecting on a personal values level can place you ahead of the competition in winning the hearts and minds of your customers. The bottom line is if you don’t align with society and you get out of step with value changes, then you’re going to destroy shareholder value.


Dean is an intellectual adventurer and scholar of the new world of work. He has an insatiable appetite for discovering how businesses can become more successful and increasingly contribute to society. His real gift is an ability to take complex information and present ideas in a way that makes them practical. Dean acts as a translator between the scholarly world and the business world and is a sought after speaker and consultant. He is a co-founder of TomorrowToday’s International business, a company that shows businesses that there is a better way to work in the new world of work.

Dean is available to speak on this and other topics at conferences, team meetings and company away days.

You can contact Dean directly on:  +44 7525 160 964 or [email protected]
You can also see Dean presenting on youtube:

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