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How social values influence consumer purchase behavior and brand performance

How social values influence consumer purchase behavior and brand performance

Corporate America is having a wakeup call on social values. Today’s brands find themselves in the crosshairs of an increasingly empowered consumer who is energized about social issues, and expects their providers to be the same.

Take the March boycott of Atlanta-based companies following the passage of a controversial Georgia voting rights bill. Delta and Coca-Cola had to walk back their initial tepid statements after consumer groups and business leaders took them to task, with both companies taking a stronger stand on an issue that would likely impact their key customer segments.  

The fact that these major companies reversed their positions in a matter of days after a highly-publicized public backlash shows how vulnerable brands are in today’s volatile environment. According to our March study of 1,097 US consumers,*

For forward-thinking brands, taking a stand on social values is more than a moment; it’s a long-term proposition. Companies need to evaluate the impact of their messaging, partner decisions, vendor selection, and more, and invest in the process of developing brand values that are consistent with their target audience and their own goals.

There are many examples of companies that have felt the impact of their actions, especially around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and how it factors into corporate decisions. From Nike and its early support of Colin Kaepernick, to Harley-Davidson’s decision to drop a major dealer due to racist Facebook comments, many companies have taken steps to support a point of view that has a direct impact on their bottom line.

Consumers are increasingly willing to align with brands that support their beliefs. According to our research, 78% of consumers said they made a purchase decision based on values in the past year. What's more:

Only 4% of consumers said it was not important that a company they purchase from share their values.

The decision to take a stand on social issues isn’t just about damage control. In the case of Harley-Davidson, the company had long tried to woo women and minorities to its line, which was strongly aligned with an older, white male demographic. The company sold Confederate Edition bikes in the 1970s, but now forbids licensees and dealers from using the Confederate flag with any of its logos, merchandise, or products.

COVID-19 and the 2020 election in the US sparked news cycles and conversations that have acted as lightning rods for consumer sentiment. Our research uncovered the social issues that resonated the most with consumers. Below are the issues that consumers ranked as very or extremely important: 

  • 73% said pay equity and fair labor practices
  • 71% said protecting the environment
  • 68% said racial equity 
  • 64% said gender equality
  • 51% said LGBTQ equity

When things are important to consumers, today’s savvy brands are taking notice. Recent history has shown that a brand’s social values are increasingly tied to other company goals, especially financial. Consumers have made it clear they are willing to spread their purchase power to those companies that support what they believe in.  

Conversely, only 8% of consumers said they don’t care about a company’s social values. These stats are another indication that for consumers, brand values have taken a new level of importance over traditional purchase drivers.

So, how can brands stay ahead of the curve in terms of social values, competitive initiatives, and consumer demands? And, how can they help their brand evolve to keep up with customer values and beliefs? 

The answer starts with data. Understanding “when” and “how” to respond is where brands should be focusing their efforts. However, the data that informs DEI initiatives needs to be seen through the lens of time. Market research solutions, like brand tracking, can help brands correlate social value initiatives and brand performance over time. 

Brand tracking has traditionally been a slow-moving process, where results can take months to produce. It typically provides a rearview mirror perspective, based on periodic measurement and time-consuming reporting.

Today’s companies need a more agile approach. SurveyMonkey’s Brand Tracker helps companies continuously measure brand performance and tap into consumer sentiment whenever they need it. Brands can track their vitals on a variety of metrics—from awareness to reputation—and spot changes in real time.

Companies that are prioritizing DEI initiatives can customize a tracker to collect data on the specific attributes that relate to their social value goals. For example, companies can create a “pick-list” of aspirational traits (like “inclusive” or “fair labor”) or ask consumers to agree or disagree with attitudinal statements to track the most important attributes.

Instead of waiting months, companies get current, in-the-moment  insights into brand health, and can gauge the effectiveness of DEI initiatives, filtering results by market, time period, demographics, and more.

Long-term, brand tracking can help measure whether DEI values resonate with target consumers and trickle down into awareness, preference, and ultimately, loyalty. When used in conjunction with other market research tools, such as concept testing or attitudinal studies, brand tracking can be even more powerful.

For example, the SurveyMonkey Usage & Attitudes solution helps companies define their top consumer segments, what they care about, how they shop, and the best way to get their attention. Collecting these insights in a complementary study can help companies better understand the “why” behind the shifts in trend data.

Testing a message or claim can also uncover how DEI messages will resonate with consumers. With SurveyMonkey Messaging & Claims Analysis, companies can get feedback from a target audience on language and messaging, by comparing multiple messages to maximize overall appeal and value.

While brand tracking might seem like a luxury for only the largest companies, it can now become a competitive advantage for smaller competitors. Millennials and GenZ consumers are particularly aware of the social foundation of the companies they shop with, and there are many examples of challenger brands that have gained traction by leveraging that awareness in their brand messaging.

Companies large and small now have a suite of market research solutions at their disposal to help them understand the impact of their decisions around social values and consumer sentiment. 

Methodology: This study was conducted using SurveyMonkey Audience in March 2021 to collect a sample of 1,097 adults in the US. The sample was balanced for age, gender, and US Region according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey

Learn more about SurveyMonkey Brand Tracker.