For over a year in this newsletter, I have written up the news about the growing number of brands taking stands on the key issues of the day.
Every so often, a new survey is issued, making it possible to put some numbers to the “noise.” The latest figures, from a report by Clutch, a Washington D.C.-based research and consulting firm, offers data to think about.
The survey’s overall conclusion is that “People expect more responsibility, action, and accountability from businesses and tend to shop at companies that share their values...it’s important for businesses to demonstrate social responsibility and take stances on current social movements.”
This finding will not be big news to regular readers of this newsletter, but the poll’s consequential result is a bit more eye-opening: “The social stances a company takes now influence buying decisions more than price.”
As the survey notes, “affordability has always fueled people’s buying decisions.... [Now] most people are willing to pay a little more for a product or service coming from a socially conscious brand.”
In sum, those consumers polled say that values are now taking precedence over price. The survey puts some numbers to this sweeping claim.
Which values adopted by companies are backed up by the survey’s figures? Environmentally friendly business practices get the biggest nod, from 71 percent of those surveyed, with giving back to the community, and social responsibility close behind at 68 percent each. The more specific point of “support of social movements” scored with 50 percent of those surveyed. Only 44 percent flagged price as one of the three most important attributes for a company’s brand definition.
Some other numbers—
This confirms a constant chorus in this space: More people are looking to business to fill the leadership gap left vacant by politicians.
There’s also good news for companies who take the right stance: consumers are looking beyond the benefits of products and services to how those items affirm their values.
There’s also a cautionary finding:
This is a marker for companies to consider carefully when deciding which causes they should support, and which align best with their corporate values. This principle could be bluntly summed up as: Pick your purpose—get it right.
One of the most significant conclusions implies a major trust deficit:
“These findings illustrate people’s uncertainty about a business’ intent, authenticity, and transparency when it takes a stance on social movements or adopts policies of social responsibility.”
Here’s the direct message in these numbers: there’s much work to be done in communications to effectively convey corporate support of causes. More and better messaging will be required for the public to believe in a company’s authenticity.
Side note: whatever form that messaging requires, it will probably not be traditional advertising. See Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard’s recent remarks: "I would say that the days of advertising as we know it today are numbered. We need to start thinking about a world with no ads." This comment comes from one of the largest media buyers in the world. P&G’s solution: a radical reinvention in which technology and purpose-driven products are the “stars of the show.”
The company’s latest “ad” for its Gillette brand is more of an in-depth social statement, taking on issues around toxic masculinity: sexual harassment, sexist media, and the lack of women in the boardroom. The company’s message is to the point: “We have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.”
For the survey, Clutch focused on getting in-depth information from a sample of 420 consumers across the country who made a purchase within the last five months in Q4. (The survey was conducted by Survata, a brand intelligence research firm.)
It’s hard to judge whether a survey based on such a small sample is definitive. But my concern about that fact is offset by its in-depth questioning and hard numbers. Going forward into the uncertain business environment in 2019, decision makers will be wise to study such data, no matter how partial, for clues about how to formulate future strategies and practices.
Reposted from the weekly Brands Taking Stands newsletter - be sure to subscribe!
John Howell, Chief of Thought Leadership and Editorial Director, is a co-founder of 3BL Media, the parent company of Triple Pundit, begun in 2009. Howell oversees original editorial content procurement and creation. He is also the author of the weekly Brands Taking Stands Newsletter. He has written and edited for Elle, Artforum, High Times, the New York Times Magazine, and the LA Times. Howell is based in Wonalancet, NH.