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  • Writer's pictureDiana Sheehan

Exploring the Opportunity for Socially Responsible Brands

Picture of HBC products that support regenerative farming, honey that supports autism, endangered species chocolates
Merchandising examples of socially responsible brands

For decades, consumers have embraced brands promoting causes that matter to them. Products that lean on purpose-driven marketing can sell incredibly well, while also doing quite a bit of good. In addition, there has been a lot of buzz around the idea of corporate social responsibility over the last few years, with some of the largest companies in the world being very vocal about the causes they support and the initiatives that matter to them.

There are well established, socially responsible brands that have been around for decades – Patagonia, Bombas, Subaru, and Ben & Jerry’s - that continue to thrive today. However, new brands are breaking through in unique and creative ways - Kodiak Cakes, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Who Gives a Crap toilet paper, to name a few. With quality products, strong marketing, and clear connectivity to consumers who care about their cause, socially responsible brands can thrive in an incredibly competitive marketplace.

This week, I did an informal query on social media asking colleagues to name their favorite socially responsible brands. With minimal prompting, I received recommendations for nearly two dozen brands, supporting different causes and reaching consumers in different ways, which were meaningful enough to remain top of mind.

What Does Socially Responsible Mean to Consumers?

For brands and consumers, this can mean many different things. In this article, we’ll review some of the findings from a proprietary study, fielded by PDG Insights in March 2023, among over 500 consumers, exploring attitudes and perceptions toward corporate social responsibility. We asked consumers to define “socially responsible” brands in their own words. Thematically, a few key phrases were repeated: environmentally friendly, sustainable, and community focused.

Word cloud of top words used to describe socially responsible brands.
Figure 1: *Font size illustrates frequency – largest font, used most often.

These concepts weren’t independent. In fact, often, consumers’ written descriptions combine elements of several themes. The key takeaway for consumers – a socially responsible brand cares about its community and its cause and operates with purpose. One consumer eloquently defined a socially responsible brand in a way that cleanly summarized what many others articulated in their responses.

“A socially responsible brand would follow honest and ethical business practices. Employees would be paid the amount they are supposed to be paid for the work that they do… A socially responsible brand would also make donations or assist with community charities.”

It’s important for consumers to find value when prioritizing brands focused on the greater good. We wanted to better understand how important buying socially responsible brands was to consumers and whether they’d be willing to pay more for products produced and sold in a socially responsible way. The reality for these brands is that the more commercially successful they are, the greater impact they can have.

Very simply, most US consumers feel it is important to buy socially responsible brands. Digging deeper, we found that half (50%) said it was extremely or very important. For brands, retailers, and marketers, the most important thing to understand is that there is a direct correlation between age and the importance of having socially responsible brands available. This matters significantly more to younger consumers. In fact, 73% of consumers under 35 felt this was very or extremely important compared to only 31% of those over 55+.

Will Consumers Pay More for Products that Try to Make a Difference?

Half of US consumers say they will likely pay more for a brand that was produced and sold in a socially responsible way. In essence, one in every two consumers will put their money where their heart is. Thus, for the right brand and product, socially responsible brands have the right to charge a premium, or at least be priced at a premium to ensure product quality and contributions to the causes or initiatives supported.

Age matters here too! Consumers under 35 were significantly more likely (71%) to be willing to spend more on these products than older adults. Only 30% of consumers over 55 would be willing to spend more, though that still is nearly 1 in 3 consumers. Those who felt it was very, or extremely important to buy socially responsible brands were also significantly more likely to spend more for these brands, (82% vs 50%) regardless of age.

A clear opportunity exists for socially responsible brands to thrive among US consumers. This is important to consumers regardless of age, but it is imperative to younger consumers. Clear communication about the cause is important, as is credibility. Consumers are looking for authenticity.

Subscribe to our blog to make sure you don’t miss our latest on key trends in the industry. If you want to learn more about PDG Insights studies or explore how we can help you with business questions, feel free to contact me here. I’d love to hear from you!

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