Flagship species are instrumental in raising awareness and changing behaviour for biodiversity conservation. However, most flagships are selected without engaging the stakeholders they attempt to influence, which can acutely hamper their effectiveness. To tackle this issue, we developed a framework based on social marketing and environmental economics which aims at understanding the values key stakeholders hold for different species. This framework, divided in seven steps, highlights not only the need for a full understanding of the conservation objectives but also of who is your target audience and how the audiences wider values and attitudes towards that goal can vary. Thus, the flagship selection process needs to be tailored to fit the particular social, cultural and economic reality of the key stakeholders and based on an understanding of the relationship of this audience with the conservation goal. We then field tested this framework in the Serra do Urubu, Northeast Brazil. Here, we investigated not only which bird species would be the best conservation flagship for the biodiversity of the Serra do Urubu but also how our methodology compared to more traditional flagship elections, where respondents vote for their preferred species from a group of pre-selected species. We found that there are substantial differences in the results obtained by the two methods. These are likely to be due to the heterogeneity of preferences within the target audience, which is not captured effectively by a simple election type system where only information on the top favourite species is collected. Furthermore, elections assume an ad hoc pre-selection of species which may give origin to biases through limiting the choices of the target audience. This new method highlights how relevant knowledge from the fields of social marketing and environmental economics can be used to better inform our efforts to promote biodiversity conservation worldwide.