Does being an 'ethical' brand actually matter to consumers?

February 15, 2021

There has been a rise in ‘conscious consumerism’ over the past few years – from switching to plant-based meat alternatives, only buying second-hand clothing and furniture, or simply cutting down on purchases altogether.

Aligning your brand with a specific cause has very much become the norm. What once may have been a simple CSR project a few years ago has become part of the brand’s image, ethos, and personality. Or at least, what it wants to portray. 

“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

Whether the intent is genuine or not, 1 in 3 consumers around the world ‘don’t trust brands with a cause’ – they believe these companies ‘are just trying to promote themselves’. This mistrust is less in Western markets, whereas in India it goes as high as 47%. 

Consumers aren’t without hope as almost 9 in 10 think brands should try to improve the world. This feeling is most prevalent in India (88%), Nigeria (92%), and Kenya (93%). It’s slightly lower in the UK (79%) and the US (84%).

“Brands, through small things, even just how they naturally talk to people, can have a transformational role in society. And it doesn’t all have to be about the high-profile campaigns, there‘s nothing worse than trying to force-fit purpose.” - Andy Pharoah, vice president of corporate affairs and sustainability, Mars (source: Marketing Week)

The solution to this paradox comes down to authenticity. Brands with a purpose that’s communicated authentically, with actions to back it up, will be able to create a better connection with their audience. 

Does it impact the bottom line?

Before covid, there was a significant disconnect between what consumers say they cared about and what drove their behavior. For example, while 79% of consumers claimed that sustainability was important to them, only 4% cited it as a deciding factor in the moment of purchase. Now, we’re not saying that you should abandon all sustainability efforts – but having verbal support and having that translate into purchase/usage are very different things. 

It’s not just people’s experiences with your brand that matters or their personal experiences with different causes. For example, when looking at diversity and inclusion, half (47%) of those who have felt discriminated against at some point by personal care brands have changed their behavior in response to recent activism regarding racial/gender identity/sexuality discrimination, compared to just 10% of those who haven’t experienced this. 

For change to really start we must listen, acknowledge, understand (as best we can) and learn from an individual’s experiences. 

Brands exist to not only provide value but to make decisions easier for the consumer. And those that are able to tap into the causes that really matter to them and how that impacts their decision making will come out stronger. 

If you’re interesting in learning more about the importance of ethical drivers and brand purpose, get in touch with the team about Streetbees’ Brand Experience Monitor - a revolutionary way to track brand performance and equity where it matters, in real consumers’ own words, enabling proactive and tangible actions.