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Study: Purpose Now Rivals Cost, Quality for Attracting, Retaining, Engaging Consumers

Consumers are more willing to share the stories of purpose-driven companies via word of mouth and social media. | Image credit: Charisse Kenion/Unsplash

Purpose-driven brands can build stronger emotional connections with consumers that go far beyond a transactional relationship, according to the newly released 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study. Nearly eight in ten (79 percent) say they are more loyal to purpose-driven companies and would tell others to buy products from those companies (78 percent), while two-thirds (66 percent) say they would switch brands and over half (57 percent) would pay more.

The study asked a random sample of over 1,000 Americans over the age of 20 about their expectations and behaviors towards companies that lead with purpose compared to traditional brands. More than three quarters (78 percent) of consumers believe it is no longer acceptable for companies to just make money, they expect companies to positively impact society as well. Companies that meet those expectations seem likely to gain new customers and market share, while benefitting from amplified messaging.

“Purpose-driven brands are able to develop much deeper relationships with consumers by connecting on issues that matter,” said Brad MacAffee, CEO of Porter Novelli. “Consumers of Purpose-driven brands are redefining modern-age loyalty, and brands can seek to benefit from this meaningful personal commitment.”

Consumers want to share the stories of purpose-driven companies

Three quarters (77 percent) of Americans said they feel a stronger emotional connection with purpose-driven companies than traditional brands, while two-thirds (67 percent) also felt that they care more about them and their families. 70 percent feel proud to be associated with purpose-driven companies, which may explain their interest in sharing purpose-driven companies’ stories and higher levels of engagement. Three quarters (78 percent) of those surveyed said they would tell others to buy products from purpose-driven companies and nearly as many (73 percent) would share information or stories about that company. Consumers also want to play a role in advancing the positive impact that company seeks to make, with nearly two-thirds (65 percent) saying they would advocate for issues that company supports.

Beyond positive word of mouth, they’re willing to share purpose-driven companies’ content with their social networks. Consumers are not only more willing to share such companies’ content over that of others, but they are willing to share more than just information about commitments to society and the environment (66 percent). They are just as likely to share product information (66 percent), closely followed by promotions and sales (64 percent) and the company’s overall mission (62 percent).

“Consumers’ willingness to tell a Purpose-driven brand’s story means that company will have an expanded reach to entirely new audiences,” said Alison DaSilva, EVP of Purpose/CSR at Cone Communications. “They are being introduced and ‘endorsed’ based on their role in society and shared values versus a transactional and transient benefit, further expanding a company’s future loyal consumer base.”

Purpose is hot on the heels of quality and cost when it comes to purchasing decisions

When asked to choose between supporting purpose-driven, low cost or quality brands, purpose proved to be a close competitor. Quality remained the primary factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions, loyalty and recommendations to others. Regarding purchases, quality was most important for 41 percent compared to cost for 29 percent and purpose for 20 percent; for loyalty, 40 percent chose quality, 33 percent chose purpose and 27 percent chose cost; and for telling others to buy a product, quality was the most important for 44 percent, while cost was for 29 percent and purpose was for 27 percent.

However, purpose reigned when it came to emotional connection (50 percent vs. 30 percent quality, 20 percent cost), willingness to defend a brand when someone speaks badly of it (48 percent vs. 33 percent quality, 19 percent cost), sharing information or stories about or from a company (45 percent vs. 33 percent quality, 23 percent cost), and being proud to be associated with that company (42 percent vs. 40 percent quality, 18 percent cost).


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The importance of emotional connection with customers is not to be taken lightly. 71 percent of survey respondents said they expect companies to connect with them emotionally on issues that matter to them personally, including ones that fall well outside of their operational footprint. Nearly four in five (79 percent) Americans believe companies should work to address social justice issues. The majority of respondents feel companies should have a seat at the table to solve complex and hot-button topics including: privacy and internet security (86 percent); domestic job growth (86 percent); access to healthcare (85 percent); sexual harassment (83 percent); racial equality (81 percent); women’s rights (80 percent); cost of higher education (76 percent); immigration (74 percent); climate change (73 percent); gun control (69 percent); LGBTQ rights (63 percent); and fake news (56 percent).

“From #MeToo to March for Our Lives, the last year has seen unprecedented levels of support for critical social justice issues that connect with Americans on a far deeper and vastly more emotional level,” said DaSilva.  “While no company should stand for all these issues, organizations should look within and use their unique Purpose to determine which issues they can authentically support.”

Consumers believe all industries, employers should lead with purpose

No industry seems to be exempt, either. When asked among which industries it was most important to have and communicate a sense of purpose, health and wellness (87 percent) topped the list, followed by food and beverage (81 percent) and technology (81 percent). Still, more than three quarters also believe it is important for industries such as manufacturing (79 percent), automotive (78 percent), retail (77 percent), financial services (77 percent), professional services (76 percent), and footwear and apparel (76 percent).

The study also supported previous findings that purpose is increasingly important to maintain its license to operate and its ability to attract talent. 85 percent of Americans would support a purpose-driven company in their community, 68 would work for that company, and 54 percent would be more willing to invest in that company.

“Purpose is more than a marketing tactic or bolt-on strategy,” said MacAfee. “It must be deeply embedded into the business, the brand and the experience that is delivered. And those companies that integrate Purpose into the very bedrock of the business will stand to build deeper bonds with existing consumers, expand the consumer base and enlist those brand advocates to share the brand message.”


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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