People Say Purpose Alone Doesn’t Drive Purchases, but It Can Be A Differentiator

April 26, 2023

Adults in the US don’t place brand purpose among their top decision influencers when deciding which brands to purchase from, but when all else is equal, they’ll favor a brand for its purpose attributes, according to a study [pdf] from Ipsos.

The survey of more than 1,000 US adults ages 21 and older found that trust in the quality of a brand is the most important factor in their decision of which brand to purchase from. Indeed, quality is the main driver of brand loyalty, according to a previous study. Newer research [pdf] from The CMO Survey indicates that CMOs are aware of consumers’ feelings in this regard: a leading 32.3% share said that superior product quality will be customers’ top priority over the next year, far ahead of the next-most cited priority, low prices (18.9% share).

Returning to the Ipsos study, other key purchase decision drivers include the brand being one that the respondent has already used in the past, the presence of a sale or promotion, and the brand receiving good product reviews.

By comparison, fewer said that one of the most important factors is if it is sustainable or a better product for the environment, if the brand aligns with their values, or if the brand tries to make a positive impact on society.

While this suggests that brand purpose efforts (which are failing to break through to consumers) aren’t strongly taken into account when consumers make purchase decisions, the report shows that they can be a motivator. If assuming attributes between brands are equal, a strong majority of respondents said that they would be very likely or likely to pick a certain brand specifically because of its purpose attributes.

(It’s also been found that purpose matters more in some categories – such as restaurants and apparel – than in others, including toys and medications.)

The type of purpose attribute is also a factor. Adults are more likely to ascribe purchase impact to local charitable donations and business practices that protect the environment than to the brand taking a stance on political issues, whether those stances are ones that the respondent agrees with or not. For each of the purpose attributes listed, Gen Z and Millennial respondents (combined) were more likely than Gen Xers and Boomers to say their decision would be influenced.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of respondents overall agree that purchasing sustainable brands or products makes a difference for the environment, and 55% agree that they tend to buy from brands that are committed to limiting their impact on the environment. By comparison, fewer (33%) agree that they tend to buy from brands that they align with politically.

Additional results from Ipsos’ research indicate that adults believe that government has a greater role to play than brands in areas including poverty and social inequality, climate change, education inequality, and protecting religious freedom. However, brands are expected to take more responsibility than government in ensuring that products are environmentally sustainable and in creating local jobs.

Other Survey Highlights:

  • Half (51%) of respondents agree that companies should remain neutral on social issues.
  • Republicans and Democrats agree (67% each) that too many businesses use the language of social purpose without committing to real change. However, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to think that companies should remain neutral on social issues, while Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to feel that it’s appropriate for any brand to take a stance on racial issues and that they’re more likely to buy something from a company that has taken a public stand against racism.
  • A slim majority (54%) expect global brands to take their local area’s environmental or social issues into account.
  • Slightly more than half (53%) are willing to pay more for products that cut waste from the manufacturing process to make their products sustainably.

For more, check out the report here.

About the Data: The results are based on a February survey of 1,096 US adults (21+).


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