In a Time of Substance, Honesty Still Comes First


By Rubens Pessanha Filho, Ed.D., PMP, GPHR

Showcase your values and focus on doing good to connect with consumers on a deeper level and boost business success.


To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world; it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is.  — Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple

In a time when technology transfers so much power to consumers and competition is stronger than ever, businesses and brands must connect with people’s souls to survive in the marketplace. As transactions are being replaced by relationships, customers are becoming less loyal to businesses that do not stand for something and aren’t able to connect with them and connect them with others (i.e., create communities) based on values. There is no more space for fluff in the marketplace. We live in a time of substance.

This Research Corner article will focus on what is important to individuals when interacting with other people, what they are willing to stand for to make a difference in society, and what values they care most about and why. The insights from this article will provide businesses with a blueprint to reflect on their own values—on what they stand for—and how to use this knowledge to grow their businesses. This article also will showcase how doing good is valuable because it connects with deeper human needs.

It’s All About Character


Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. — John Wooden, Former UCLA Basketball Coach

Character is often defined at the individual level as the mental and moral qualities of a person. But character is not something that only individuals have. Brands also have their own unique character or personality that should help them be distinctive in the marketplace and connect with customers. For smaller businesses, brand character likely reflects and connects to the values of the thought leaders who run them.

To better understand the values that matter to the population at large, we used Google Surveys to ask 1,000 adults in the United States and Canada what values are important to them when relating to other people and what is important to them when relating to businesses. The values that appeared most in both sets of answers were honesty, integrity, trust, respect, loyalty, forgiveness, kindness, and caring. We also found that customers prefer businesses that are customer-centric and that value customer service. Honesty and integrity lead the way as preferred values when people relate to other people or to businesses. In fact, those are the top values—nearly a quarter of the total survey responses for both individuals and businesses included the words “honesty” and “integrity.” 

Consumer attitudes about honesty and business have evolved over time. Using Google Trends, we found that Google searches using the term “honest” as a keyword have more than doubled from 2004 to 2017. Perhaps this fact indicates that people are placing even more value on being honest today than they did 13 years ago. The main difference to keep in mind, though, is that with so much information available at our fingertips, more people are paying attention to what businesses are doing. Businesses need to not only talk the talk but walk the walk to show their honesty and integrity. Small mistakes or distractions that could have easily gone unnoticed in the past can cause tremendous damage for brands and businesses today.

But what does it mean to be honest? What distinguishes honest businesses from others? defines the word “honest” as:

  • Being honorable in principles, intentions, and actions
  • Showing fairness and uprightness
  • Being sincere, frank, and genuine
  • Having a good reputation
  • Being respectable
  • Being creditable or truthful

As we confirmed during our research, customers perceive businesses as honest if they have excellent customer service, are transparent, do the right thing first instead of the profitable thing, take care of their employees, don’t put pressure on people to buy (i.e., are not pushy), don’t make excuses, give back to their communities, and are willing to listen and engage to ensure they understand problems and customers’ expectations before attempting to resolve them.

Standing for Something


If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand. — Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman of Starbucks

Honest businesses are also honest to what they value and stand for something they care about. These companies keep asking themselves, “How can we do more? How can we be better? What do we stand for? And why does it matter?” Using Google Surveys, we asked 1,000 adults in the United States and Canada to choose one social cause they would be willing to support. The top causes were protecting animals, protecting the environment, combating cancer, helping youth and families, supporting medical research, advancing education, helping fight hunger, and supporting equal rights. Whatever your business’s cause is, the most important thing is to be honest and truthful to who you are as a person and as a business.

To better understand why standing for something matters, watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on how great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., the Wright brothers, and others inspire action. The key piece of advice he gives is to know and be able to articulate your “why”—the cause, belief, or purpose that inspires your organization to exist and you to do what you do (Sinek, 2009).

 The Power of Doing Good


Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.  — Mother Teresa

According to The Healing Power of Doing Good by Allan Luks and Peggy Payne, helping and caring about others can have significant health benefits (2001). Doing good is powerful, and it can also be a boon for businesses today. The Fortune® Change the World list, for example, recognizes 50 global companies that are confronting key societal challenges—improving people’s lives, protecting the environment, serving the underserved, and supporting communities—through activities that are part of their business models and strategies and contribute to their bottom lines.

What should companies that want to start this journey for good do first? The initial step is to know yourself and your leadership team and to better understand what you collectively value the most. Try making a list of what is important to you, your staff, and your customers. Next, find out what your audience values the most about your business. Ask your customers to describe your business in a few sentences. Consider what you want them to say about you versus what they are actually saying. Finally, examine how you communicate your purpose to your customers. Reflect on how you communicate what you do, and ask your customers for feedback about it. For example, are you focused too much on showcasing your products and services in your messaging? Are you clear about your business’s purpose? Listen to customer feedback, because while what they say about you is sometimes not what you want to hear, the information is valuable nonetheless.

The power to do good is in your hands, and the first step is all yours. It is for you to decide if the time of substance has arrived for your business.

Honest. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved from
Luks, A. and Payne, P. (2001). The healing power of doing good. Lincoln, NE: Inc.
Sinek, S. (2009, September). Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action [Video file]. Retrieved from


Rubens Pessanha Filho, Ed.D., PMP, GPHR, is the Director of Market Research and Insights for Council of Better Business Bureaus. He has more than 20 years of global experience in the interfaces of marketing, strategic organizational development, and market research and insights. He is passionate about seeing connections in data and telling stories from them.