Last week public relations firm Edelman published “Brands take a stand.” It argued that consumers want the brands they buy from to lead on social issues and deliver change.

Three stats immediately stood out to me:

  • Businesses are more trusted than government (+7% more in the UK – 43% v 26%)
  • Trust in social media has declined 2% (now at 24% in the UK – the lowest in the countries surveyed)
  • 1 in 2 people are ‘belief-driven buyers’ – they choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand because of their stand on an issue. This has jumped 20% in the last year in the UK (from 37% up to 57%)
Who is responsible for change?

According to the research, a company’s position on an issue should be led and driven by the CEO (64%). This seems to suggest that a more active, visible CEO is desired from a profile perspective.

It directly feeds sales, with 67% of purchasers buying from a brand for the first time because of its position on a controversial issue and 65% not buying from a brand that stays silent on an issue it has “an obligation to address.”

Buyer behaviour

The report identified three types of consumer:

  • Spectators (rarely buy on belief or punish brands for taking a stand)
  • Joiners (depending on the issue, they may change buying behaviour based on brand stand)
  • Leaders (have strongly held beliefs and believe their purchases are an important way of expressing those beliefs)

A big change in the last year has been the drop in spectators. More consumers are basing their decisions on the behaviour of brands. A large proportion (64%) now look at the similarities between their own beliefs and the actions of the brands they buy from.

In fact, the brand’s stance on an issue was almost as important as the product features (43% vs 44% respectively).

Isn’t it just ‘millennials’?

Often when you see stories like this, the media argues that it is because of the rising influence of younger consumers. Interestingly, the report outlines that the rise in belief-driven buyers is across the board, with the largest jump in the 55+ category. A brand’s positioning on important issues is now essential across all categories.

What does it mean for communicators?

Some additional stats for anyone targeting consumers with their messaging:

  • 60% of respondents said that brands should make it easier to see what their values are at point of sale
  • 56% argue that brands aren’t reaching them with their messages – they are spending time “forcing them to pay attention” rather than getting them to want to pay attention

Clearly, there is a gap between messaging and a problem with the tactics used. It means that brands that close this gap and take a stand on an issue have the most to gain, particularly if they are one of the first in their area of influence to do so.

The report offers three ways to do this:

  • Purpose: clearly articulate why your brand exists and make a proactive effort to address that purpose
  • Culture: authentically connect your stand to a relevant cultural moment
  • Activism: confront a controversial issue that has a direct impact on stakeholders and/or brand

The suggestion is that brands with clear, authentic messaging will stand out the most. Stories remain one of the most effective way of telling these messages. By showing people’s experiences you can add a clear perspective on the issues and also offer the strongest opportunity to mobilise others to join in with the messaging. In this way, companies can raise awareness of issues and help to deliver change.

Photo by Mike Petrucci via Unsplash

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