Does a Cause Drive a Purchase?

Cone Communications is behind another study that claims consumers buy products because of their social mission – this time emphasizing mothers and young people are at the forefront of this trend.  As much as I am a committed social entrepreneur whose life is dedicated to find creative ways to advance social goals using market mechanisms, I have from my experience always been skeptical of this claim.  There are enormous benefits to being socially conscious, not the least of which is that it gives you meaning.  And it attracts the best team to join you on your journey, and generates loyalty, goodwill, word of mouth, media attention, and more.  But purchases ultimately are made by consumers primarily based on whether a product fits their personal lifestyle, and price, quality and taste are foremost facts when these choices are made.  That said, I do sense over the last 15 years that consumers are becoming more educated and supportive of socially conscious ventures, particularly when they can be seen to be sincere.  So whatever the actual behavior has been, it certainly is shifting more and more towards enlightened capitalism.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

September 16, 2010, 08:56 PM ET

Mothers and Young People Are Most Likely to Buy Products Tied to a Cause

Moms and Millennials are the most likely Americans to buy products that benefit a cause, according to a new survey, which defines Millennials as people from 18 to 24 years old.

But all Americans are becoming far more interested in buying such products: Two out of five consumers have bought a product or service in the past year because it was associated with a cause or issue. In 1993 only one out of five did so.

The number of mothers who buy such products is more striking, however. Nearly two-thirds bought the products in the past, according to an online survey of 1,057 adults by Cone, a Boston marketing firm. They are also more likely to switch brands based on association with a cause (93 percent versus 80 percent of all Americans.)

Young adults also are highly likely to buy products tied to a cause—more than half have bought such a product in the past year.

The survey produced some good news for charities that worry that people who buy cause-related products might feel they don’t need to give: Eighty-six percent of Americans said that buying those products did not replace traditional giving to their favorite charity.

The majority of people surveyed said they have a more positive image of that product or company if their cause is supported. But they also want to see more products, services, and retailers support worthy causes, and even expect them to do more for social or environmental causes and nonprofit organizations during economic downturns. Four out of five said companies should financially support causes at the same level or higher during an economic dip.

"For nonprofits, this really gives them the ammunition to make the case, both internally within their organization as well as externally, that there’s a lot of benefits to working with companies to help raise awareness about both their organizations as well as their social issues," says Alison DaSilva, an executive vice president at Cone.

But these consumers also believe that companies should consider carefully what causes to support. They would like the causes to be in the community where they do business; consistent with their business practices; important to their consumers. They also want the causes to be those in which a business would have the most social or environmental impact and those that are important to their employees.

The top issues they would like companies to support are: economic development (77 percent); health and disease (77 percent); hunger (76 percent); education (75 percent); access to clean water (74 percent); and disaster relief (73 percent).

A majority of consumers say they would prefer to see a company make a long-term commitment to an issue rather than do short-term support to different causes. They also don’t want to just buy products that benefit a cause, but also to know how they can help (80 percent) and contribute (75 percent) as well as volunteer (72 percent).
"Consumers are more savvy today and see that connection, and they want to do business with a company that cares about more than profit," Ms. DaSilva says.

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