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Belief-Driven Buyers: Generating Hardball Marketing Outcomes from CSR

October 12, 2018    I   A. Bruce Crawley


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around since at least the 1960’s, and like many concepts that grew out of that period, it was a “nice thing to do”...for corporations.


Now, we’re seeing the emergence of an attitude among consumers that says that accountable, CSR-like behavior is not just “nice to do” but a clear prerequisite for their selection of a brand’s goods or services.


In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed Nike’s online sales increase 31 percent  following the introduction of what pundits formerly believed would be a controversial/risky “Kaepernick ad.” What the Monday morning marketing quarterbacks all agree upon, now, is that Nike, unlike most brands, clearly understood the values of its core audiences and communicated its brand’s agreement with those values, on the way to selling more shoes and apparel. 


Shortly thereafter, Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand Report, supported by copious empirical data, was published. It reminded us that U.S. marketers, and their global counterparts, are now challenged to operate in a new era dominated by the “belief-driven buyer.”


Brands that have missed the growing importance of such buyers, I.e., buyers who “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on social issues” are playing a dangerous game, in which their sales volumes and, very survivability, may be at risk.


Amazingly, according to Edelman, “belief-driven buyers” now constitute about 64 percent of all consumers across eight large global economies, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Brazil, India, Japan and China. Interestingly, the report disclosed that “belief-driven buyers” now represent the majority of consumers in each of those national markets.


Even more revealing is that those same buyers represent the majority of consumers across age-demographic categories, e.g., 69 percent of those who are 18-34; 67 percent of those who are 35-44; and somewhat surprisingly, 56 percent of consumers who are age 55, or over.


In addition, a year ago, only 46 percent of middle-income buyers and 51 percent of low-income buyers self-described as “belief-driven.” Today, however, the “belief-driven” constitute 62 percent of both income classifications, with those described in a third, high-income category, weighing in at 69 percent “belief-driven.”


These new cross-generational consumers  want their brands to take social and political stands, something that was considered taboo, just a decade ago. Indeed, 46 percent of them also believe that brands have better ideas than government for solving national problems; and 54 percent believe it’s easier to get brands to address social problems than their governments.


In that regard, 60 percent of belief-driven consumers feel that brands should make it easier for potential consumers to see what their values and positions on important issues are, when they are about to make a purchase. They also believe marketers spend too much time looking for ways to force consumers to pay attention to brand messages and “not enough time thinking of ways to make them WANT to pay attention.”


Perhaps most eye-opening, when asked who would be the best advocates for messaging to brand consumers, the “belief-driven” response was that the most effective voices or advocates will include customers or regular persons, experts, or a company employee. Those categories of influencers outranked journalists, CEOs/or other executives, celebrities, models and actors, significantly.


To most effectively prepare to attract these new consumers, companies will have to ensure that their brand  purpose is identified and clearly communicated. Such purpose, defined as “something a company strives for beyond selling more products or services,” and something that will make the brand competitively distinctive, should be clarified prior to the development of any new content, before the posting of such content to any social platforms, or the purchase of any traditional or social media availabilities.


In this new consumer-centric and -responsive environment, ongoing audience research is indispensable. Successful brands will need to clearly identify who their target audiences are, and to determine what their inherent values seem to be. Subsequently, they’ll have to ascertain whether their own brands’ values and purpose are consistent with the beliefs and aspirations of those audiences. Brand decisions on expressed company policies, customer experience objectives; board, executive and staff selection; internal communications; external messaging and sponsorship decisions, can then be made consistently.


Who are the target audiences, what do they expect of the brand, do they understand the brand’s purpose and values, and do those things provide sufficient information for the “belief-driven” to make an informed decision about the brand and whether to become its consumers?


In this exciting new, “belief-driven”environment, it will soon become clear, if it is not already, which brands are on the wrong side of marketing and communications history.


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A. Bruce Crawley is president, CEO and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc. (M3M). Read More...

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