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Brands are taking societal stands, like consumers want—so why are we so skeptical?

by | Nov 13, 2019 | Public Relations

Just as consumers have demanded, brand-sponsored cause marketing is now the norm, but the perceived motivations behind this outspokenness is spurring apprehension about what’s authentic—and what’s simply a marketing ploy.

New research from social analytics firm Sprout Social reveals that 35 percent of consumers perceive brands speaking out as “jumping on the bandwagon.” But while there is skepticism about the motivations for brands taking a bold stance on issues, it can be effective when done with the right intentions—and through the right channels. Two-thirds of consumers say brands are effective at raising awareness around important public issues when they take a stand on social media.

Brands are taking societal stands, like consumers want—so why are we so skeptical?

The firm’s new report, Taking a Stand and Creating Change in the Conscious-Consumer Era, is based on the responses of 1,500 U.S. consumers to determine when and why they want brands to speak out on public issues, and how brands can make a difference using social media. Seventy percent of consumers say it’s important for brands to take a stand on public issues, up from 64 percent of consumers who felt similarly two years ago. And of the consumers who want brands to take a stand on social, 66 percent believe brands should do so because they can create real change. There is still great opportunity to connect with consumers on hot-button issues, as long as brands are communicating how their influence on social contributes to actual change.

Brands are taking societal stands, like consumers want—so why are we so skeptical?

The report further explores which issues consumers want brands to take a stand on and who they want driving these conversations for brands on social media. Additional insights include:

Brands can create change when it comes to voting and moving a political agenda forward

Forty-one percent of consumers say their political opinions are occasionally to frequently influenced by what brands post on social media, a 21 percent increase from consumers who said the same thing in 2017. Additionally, when prompted by a brand, 61 percent of consumers will continue to research a political issue further and 53 percent of consumers say they are likely to register to vote.

Brands are taking societal stands, like consumers want—so why are we so skeptical?

Not all issues are created equal in the eyes of consumers

Healthcare (39 percent) is the number one issue consumers want brands to take a stand on, followed by labor laws (38 percent) and climate change (36 percent). And the importance of topic differs for conservatives and liberals as well. For conservative consumers, the number one issue they want brands to take a stand on is healthcare; for liberal consumers, it’s climate change.

Speaking out about hot-button issues doesn’t come without risk

Fifty-five percent of consumers say they would boycott or discontinue shopping with brands that support public issues that don’t align with their own views. And 34 percent of consumers would decrease their spending with a brand whose stances they disagree with. Taking a stand is risky, but it’s worth it. When brands do take a stand consumers align with, 36 percent say they’ll purchase more from that company.

Brands are taking societal stands, like consumers want—so why are we so skeptical?

Consumers are also looking for employees to take a stand

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of all consumers believe employees have a responsibility to speak up when their employers make business decisions contradicting a company’s stated values. And 51 percent of consumers believe social media provides employees the best outlet to voice their beliefs.

“Consumer skepticism is high as the social and political landscape is increasingly saturated with brands taking a stand, making it more important than ever for brands to be authentic in their approach and ensure their stances are aligned with the values their customers have come to expect,” said Jamie Gilpin, CMO at Sprout Social, in a news release. “As we head into an election year, brands need to be mindful and intentional about the issues they support, prioritizing consistency with messaging and highlighting action-driven messages on social media.”

Read the full data report here.

Brands are taking societal stands, like consumers want—so why are we so skeptical?

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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