During Forrester’s Customer Experience (CX) Forum in San Francisco this fall, analyst Renee Murphy discussed the impact of “collective bargaining” — social media has created customer groups that coalesce around a brand. According to her research, millennials are revolutionary in their collective bargaining, just like labor organizer Mother Jones once was with labor negotiations. Their collective “union” influences their trust and loyalty in brands as well as their purchasing decisions. Millennials expect brands to take a side if there’s one to take — and to be vocal about it.

As a result, many companies are doing exactly that. Take Nike, for example, with its recent controversial “Just Do It” campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Or Apple’s Tim Cook, who went on MSNBC and stated, “The [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] situation isn’t an immigration issue, it’s a moral issue,” and when discussing privacy, has repeatedly commented, “[Apple believes] the customer should be in control of their own information.” Why? Murphy believes it’s because if Apple didn’t, “no one would spend $700 on a phone.”

Showcasing your brand’s values has become paramount. If your company isn’t used to that, you must change, because customers expect you to act with them. As Murphy simply put it, in reference to Patagonia’s support of the protest against President Trump’s order to reduce the size of protected lands in Utah: “Who do you trust more with the environment? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Patagonia? Patagonia.”

Living in a World of Belief-Driven Buying

Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study echoes Forrester’s findings. Our latest research reveals that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers around the world now buy on belief across markets, generations and income. This is most notably seen in 35-to-54-year-olds, who are up 14 points from 2017, and in consumers 55+ who share the belief-driven mindset with millennial buyers, jumping 18 points in one year. These Belief-Driven Buyers will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about.

Our findings also show brands can take a stand across a spectrum of actions, from defining a clear purpose, to connecting to culture, to engaging in full-throttle activism. People’s belief in brands as a force for social good provides marketers with an opportunity — and an obligation — to help their customers live their best lives.

In the “Age of the Customer,” it’s imperative that marketers and communication professionals align their North Star to the brand’s principles — or risk customer loyalty and, as a result, relevance in the market.

Loren Erickson is an account supervisor, Industry Analyst Relations, Seattle, WA.