It seems that every week there is yet another case study showcasing how quickly brands can become caught up in a polarizing controversy or consumer boycott. Just this week, The New York Times’ Fahrad Mahnjoo wrote a story about the most recent consumer-led uprisings that have led, at a rapid pace, to the ouster of key executives at Uber and Fox News, and the departure of advertisers from a New York production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In fact, our 2017 Earned Brand study shows that 57 percent of consumers globally are now buying or boycotting one or more brands because of the brand’s position on a social or political issue, and 30 percent say they are doing this more than three years ago.
But rarely mentioned in these stories of brands under pressure from social media-empowered consumer uprisings: belief-driven buying is not just a threat for brands. It also represents an enormous untapped opportunity.
Half of consumers worldwide describe themselves to be belief-driven buyers, meaning that they will change their purchasing behavior — choose , switch, avoid or boycott a brand — based on its stand on controversial societal issues. Yes, they will avoid or boycott brands when they do not agree. But belief-driven buying also means brands can win new customers, and some brands can even command a premium when they get it right.
Belief-driven buyers mean business.
Rather than shying away from controversial issues, some brands have learned that speaking up can result in a market share win: two-thirds of belief-driven buyers report that they have bought a brand for the first time because they agreed with its position on a controversial topic. And when alignment on issues creates a new consumer-brand relationship, that relationship typically has a higher-than-average value:
Buying on belief is a fast track to a stronger consumer relationship.
Belief-driven consumers represent a high-value opportunity for brands in another important way, too: they have much stronger, more committed relationships with their favorite brands.
For the second year, we measured consumers’ relationships with their favorite brands across seven dimensions in 18 distinct brand categories. This year, overall, consumers felt less connected to brands than they did last year, especially in terms of shared purpose, shared experiences and shared values, resulting in a global Edelman Brand Relationship Index of just 37, down one point from last year.
Among belief-driven buyers however, the story is different. The average relationship that these consumers have with their favorite brand is nearly 10 points higher, at 46, placing them in the Invested stage, a full level higher than non-belief driven buyers.
This large consumer segment, representing half of all consumers globally, is passionate not only about their values and societal issues, but also about the brands that support those issues. The reward for brands? They are far more likely to buy first and often, stay loyal to, advocate for, and defend a brand.
Navigating today’s turbulent, highly charged environment may not be easy. But the rewards for brands who get it right mean that the question for brands is not if, but where and how they should speak up.
Tonia Ries is the executive director of Edelman Square, Edelman’s intellectual property center.