Americans widely expect companies today to align their operations with a sense of social purpose, according to a study issued by Boston-based agency Cone and global PR powerhouse Porter Novelli.

The Cone/Porter Novelli study found that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of Americans no longer believe it’s acceptable for companies to simply make money, and an even greater number (79 percent) think companies should work to address social issues as well.

When it comes to the specific social issues Americans most want companies to address, privacy and internet security (86 percent), job growth (86 percent) and healthcare access (85 percent) took top billing, followed by sexual harassment (83 percent), racial equality (81 percent), women’s rights (80 percent) and the cost of higher education (76 percent).

As it turns out, companies imbued with a sense of purpose also forge deeper bonds with consumers: 77 percent said they feel a stronger emotional connection to purpose-driven companies over traditional companies, and 67 percent said they believe these companies care about them and their families. 80 percent of respondents also said they feel they’re doing something beneficial for society when they buy products or services from purpose-driven brands.

2018 CONE/PORTER NOVELLI PURPOSE STUDY
Leading top-of-mind issues consumers want companies to address.

It doesn’t hurt that an effective CSR mission can markedly affect companies’ bottom line as well. Nearly nine-in-10 (88 percent) of respondents said they’d buy products from a purpose-driven company, two-thirds (66 percent) said they’d switch brands to one that’s purpose-driven, and more than half (57 percent) said they’d pay more for a purpose-driven product.

Moreover, the study found that a clearly-stated mission can also effectively turn consumers into brand advocates: 68 percent of those polled said they’re more willing to share content about those purpose-driven companies via social media, and that viral activity doesn’t pertain merely to a company’s CSR efforts but usually includes product information (66 percent) and promotions and sales (64 percent) as well.

However, not only do Americans expect companies to lead with purpose, they expect that purpose to be clearly articulated. A majority of respondents (61 percent) admitted that they don’t believe a company has a social mission unless it’s clearly stated in a place they can easily find, such as on product packaging, a website or in an employee handbook.

No sector appears to be off-limits for CSR initiatives, but consumers do seem to believe that some industries have a higher bar to communicate a sense of purpose than others: health and wellness, food and beverage and technology were the industries cited most by consumers as important to have and communicate a sense of purpose.

Findings for the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study were derived from an online survey conducted in March by M/A/R/C Research among a random sample of more than 1,000 U.S. adults.

Cone and Porter Novelli are both part of Omnicom.