Study: Consumers Shop for a Cause

BOSTON -- U.S. consumers can't get enough of cause-related programs, according to new research by Cone Communications.

The public relations and marketing agency released findings from its 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study, which analyzes Americans' attitudes, perceptions and behaviors around corporate support of social and environmental issues.

The study found that economic development is the No. 1 priority for the majority of consumers (44 percent), who want to feel the impact of corporate efforts close to home in their local communities (43 percent).

“U.S. consumers’ hearts are in the right place, but they are clamoring for proof of progress. They need verification that the efforts of companies, as well as their own personal participation in cause marketing, are affecting quantifiable social impact,” said Craig Bida, Cone's executive vice president, social impact. “The onus is on companies to go beyond mission statements to provide personally relevant and tangible evidence that collectively, businesses and consumers are moving the needle.”

Regarding American consumers and their behavior, the study found:

  • 54 percent bought a product associated with a cause throughout the last 12 months, a 170-percent increase since 1993.
  • 89 percent of Americans -- a 35-percent jump since 1993 -- are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality.
  • 91 percent want even more of the products and services they use to support a cause.
  • 88 percent want to hear how companies are supporting social and environmental issues.

Although there is plenty of good will, Cone also found that there is a gap between Americans’ intended and reported behaviors when it comes to engaging in social and environmental issues. For instance, 88 percent of Americans said they would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit, but 54 percent reported already doing so this year. In addition, 84 percent of consumers indicated they would tell friends and family about corporate cause efforts, but just 38 percent actually did.

This lack of participation correlates to Cone's findings that just 16 percent of consumers believe companies have made significant positive impacts on social or environmental issues, and just 25 percent believe their own purchases substantially influence those issues.

However, the study also found that Hispanics are emerging as one of the most socially engaged consumer segments:

  • Hispanics are more apt than the general U.S. population to purchase products and services associated with causes (94 percent vs. 89 percent).
  • Hispanics more frequently go beyond the register to donate (70 percent vs. 65 percent), volunteer (47 percent vs. 42 percent) and advocate on behalf of companies (43 percent vs. 38 percent).

"Hispanics are leading the way -- they’re the fastest growing population segment in the U.S., and as they seek to build a better life for their families and communities, they’re looking to companies as critical partners in that effort," said Bida. "Other influential audiences, including African Americans and Millennials, are also populations to watch as this crucial business strategy continues to evolve.”

Social media also plays a significant role in reaching these audiences:

  • 51 percent of Americans report using social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues (55 percent of African Americans, 62 percent of Hispanics and 64 percent of Millennials).
  • 27 percent use social media to champion corporate efforts and initiatives (33 percent of African Americans, 31 percent of Hispanics and 34 percent of Millennials)
  • 20 percent acknowledge using social channels to share negative information about companies and issues (19 percent of African Americans, 23 percent of Hispanics and 26 percent of Millennials)

“The consumer mandate for companies to do more than stand for something and show proof of purpose is absolute,” Bida added. “Americans are also resoundingly clear in their desire to be engaged and help make a tangible difference. Companies must engage new audiences and utilize new channels to deliver meaningful social impact.”

A copy of Cone's complete report can be downloaded from

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