Since the onset of the pandemic, and in the wake of the 2020 social justice movement sparked in part by George Floyd’s murder, companies have made many promises to support change. The increase in extreme weather events, caused by climate change, has also sparked more corporate environmental commitments. And now, new research from comms giant Porter Novelli reveals, brands and businesses need to show outcomes from all of this as people are looking to companies for leadership.
The firm recently released its fifth annual research study of corporate reputation: The Purpose Priorities Report: How to respond in the new Era of Accountability. It includes a new Better Business Matrix to help companies navigate current cultural trends and meet the evolving demands of their audiences.
An era of accountability in action
The report highlights how consumers are demanding genuine change, not just marketing campaigns.
- Companies should have a point of view on environmental sustainability – 78 percent
- Companies should change the way they operate to address D&I – 72 percent
- Companies should encourage consumers to support social or environmental issues – 65 percent
- Companies should demonstrate how they are following through on their promises to people, the planet, or society – 84 percent
“Good intentions aren’t enough. Consumers are tired of talk: they don’t want to see campaigns, they want to see action,” said David Bentley, Global CEO of Porter Novelli, in a news release. “Companies are realizing the benefits of doing business better as all audiences demand integrity and business growth will depend on navigating the complex landscape of audience expectations.”
Addressing the climate crisis is now table stakes for organizations
After fires, floods, and droughts this year, the environment is front and center in consumer minds. While quality products and services are a prerequisite for a thriving business, audiences across all ages now expect industry to address sustainability as a core quality issue.
- More than a third (36 percent) of consumers will start or increase purchasing from companies that share a point of view on environmental sustainability that is aligned with their own, but…
- Half (51 percent) of consumers report they will stop or reduce purchasing from companies that go back on promises they make to address social or environmental issues.
The demand for operational D&I
Social inequalities are now a new second business priority to address, with operational changes expected.
- One-third (32 percent) of consumers will start or increase purchasing from companies that change the way they operate to address diversity and inclusion.
- Nearly the same amount (29 percent) of consumers will recommend companies that change the way they operate to address diversity and inclusion to friends, family, and acquaintances.
“Consumers are looking to businesses for active leadership,” said Conroy Boxhill, President of Porter Novelli U.S., in the release. “The research shows clearly there’s now a sense of urgency around companies’ DE&I efforts to the point that people are requesting they restructure operationally to drive this change.”
Politics can be punishing
In the last couple of years, companies have chosen to wade into political issues like voting rights and Roe v. Wade, but consumers aren’t convinced business and politics mix.
- Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans want companies to encourage consumers to take political actions like voting or writing to congress, but…
- Fewer than two-in-five (39 percent) consumers believe companies, themselves, should comment on political topics in the news.
Companies should play politics with caution
- 44 percent of consumers will actually stop or reduce purchasing from companies that publicly comment on a political topic with a view that is the opposite of their own.
As part of the report, the firm has developed a Better Business Matrix. This ranks the reputational leaders by industry, in eight key sectors, mapped to highlight the beneficial impact of Purpose on brand value. It also enables companies to self-diagnose their own reputation, based on the key criterion described in the report. Companies that performed the best within their industries include:
- Automotive – Toyota
- Communications – T-Mobile
- Financial Services – TIAA
- Food & Beverage – PepsiCo
- Tech – Intel
- Retail – REI
“The landscape is shifting rapidly, and this report highlights the changing expectations around sustainability and DEI as examples of purpose in action,” said Sandy Skees, Purpose & Impact lead from Porter Novelli, in the release. “The Porter Novelli Better Business matrix is about ensuring companies know how to decode and deliver on environmental and social progress—as well as avoiding the pitfalls of political overreach.”
The report analyzed the reputation of 200 top companies listed in the Fortune 100, Fortune Best Companies to Work For, World’s Most Ethical and the DiversityInc., among others.
“For the past 30 years, Porter Novelli has sought to understand the role of Purpose in company performance,” said Andrea List, senior vice president of Data & Insights, the report’s lead author. “In that time, the imperative to authentically address social and environmental issues has only grown stronger. This study continues to demonstrate that no corporate reputation can thrive without Purpose.”
The Purpose Priorities Report presents the findings of an online survey designed and executed in August 2022 among an online sample of 7,000 American adults, ages 18+. The study was fielded by Dynata. Respondents were asked to rate up to six companies each, with each company rated by an average of 150 respondents.