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Purpose is “more than a trendy buzzword,” it’s a way of doing business that has the power to not only influence positive societal change but also drive company growth. That’s according to the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study [download page], which finds that more than three-quarters of survey respondents expect companies to go beyond just making money and also positively impact society.

The survey, fielded among 1,006 Americans ages 20 and older, defined “Purpose-driven companies” as “organizations that are committed to both making money and making a positive impact on the world (e.g., strong environmental practices, being a good employer, supporting critical issues, giving back to communities).”

The research indicates that there’s broad support among Americans for such companies: roughly 9 in 10 say they’d buy from a company that leads with Purpose, and 8 in 10 consumers feel that they themselves are making a positive impact when they buy from Purpose-driven brands.

CSR Initiatives Demonstrate Purpose

If Purpose is so important to consumers, then how should companies go about demonstrating it? The vast majority (89%) agree that corporate social responsibility – operating in a way that benefits society and the environment – is paramount in demonstrating Purpose.

Close behind, a company’s Purpose brand strategy (85%) and social impact (85%) can be ways to show its commitment to Purpose, as can brand communications (71%), by connecting to consumers emotionally through issues they care about.

This is an area where CMOs can exert considerable influence. Previous research has indicated that while companies score poorly on Purpose, “articulating and activating Purpose is now a critical component of the CMO’s responsibilities.

Nothing’s Off the Table

About 8 in 10 Americans surveyed for the Cone/Porter Novelli report feel that companies should work to address social justice issues. And while research has previously found that Americans’ support for CEOs speaking out on such issues depends on the topic at hand, this latest study doesn’t quite come to the same conclusion.

It’s true that there are some top-of-mind issues that respondents are more likely to support companies addressing than others. But even the issues that consumers are least convinced that companies should address – such as gun control (69%), LGBTQ rights (63%) and fake news (56%) – still garner majority support for company activism.

Meanwhile, the issues for which consumers have the broadest consensus in terms of company engagement include: privacy and internet security (86%); domestic job growth (86%); access to healthcare (85%); sexual harassment (83%); racial equality (81%); and women’s rights (80%).

Purpose Drives Strong Bonds

Connecting with consumers surrounding issues they deeply care about can result in stronger bonds with them, per the report. Indeed, about 3 in 4 respondents (77%) claim to feel a stronger emotional connection with Purpose-driven brands, and two-thirds feel that such companies care about them and their families more than traditional brands. Many would also pay more to a Purpose-driven company, aligning with recent research indicating that a majority of consumers would be willing to pay more for a brand that advocates for something they believe in or feel strongly about.

Meanwhile, about 8 in 10 respondents to this latest survey say they would be more loyal to a Purpose-driven company, close to three-quarters (73%) would be likely to defend a Purpose-driven company if people spoke badly of it, and two-thirds would be more willing to forgive one than a traditional company if it made a misstep.

Those results suggest that Purpose-driven brands can find strong advocates in their customer base. And separate findings support that notion: 76% of respondents would tell their friends and family about a Purpose-driven company, and 73% would share information or stories about the company, per the report. Such content ranges from the companies’ commitments to society and the environment to their products, promotions, and overall mission.

Purpose is More Important Than Price, Quality, In Some Instances

While product quality is of huge importance to consumers, the study demonstrates that Purpose-driven companies are more likely to elicit a range of responses from consumers than companies that are defined by their Cost or Quality.

For example, in comparison to Cost- or Quality-led companies, consumers are more likely to have a positive emotional connection with a Purpose-driven company. They’re also more apt to defend a Purpose-driven company, support it if it wanted to move into their community, and defend it if people spoke badly of it.

By contrast, Quality trumps Purpose when consumers are thinking of buying products from a company, being loyal to a company and telling other people to buy products from a company. Or as the analysts note, “Purpose cannot be the only brand attribute that is highlighted in the marketing mix. It is still important to ensure the product is of high-quality and sold at a competitive price…”

The full report is available for download here.

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