Global customers buy brands that mix purpose with profit

Here's some evidence that consumers in emerging markets, rather than in developed countries, may soon be driving the market for sustainable and socially responsible products: Sentiments about social causes are generally stronger in emerging nations than in mature markets, according to the 2012 Edelman goodpurpose study.

In emerging markets, almost two-thirds of the consumers in countries including Brazil, China, India and the United Arab Emirates said they donated money to social causes, compared with 52 percent of those in the United States and Western Europe.

This gap also trickled into purchasing preferences: 62 percent of those in the emerging economies said they buy a "purpose-infused" product at least once a month, compared with 37 percent in developed nations.

We've written before that Chinese consumers -- and particularly young people -- have rated the environment as a higher priority than their U.S. and British counterparts. But it's interesting to see that the trend extends more broadly to other emerging markets, with more residents from those economies saying they support social causes financially than those in more mature markets. 

A global trend

That said, more consumers globally, regardless of their citizenship, are supporting businesses and brands that emphasize purpose along with profit, according to the Edelman study.

Even in the recession-weary United States, consumers are rewarding businesses that support societal causes like human rights and improving the quality of health care.

"Features and benefits of your products are no longer enough for a narrative," said Carol Cone, global practice chair of the Business + Social Purpose for Edelman. "After price and quality, the next trigger is purpose."

The influence of purpose as a factor in buying decisions has increased dramatically in some countries. For example, in the past 18 months the relevance of purpose has increased 100 percent in Japan, 70 percent in China, 43 percent in the Netherlands and India and 36 percent in Germany.

The 2012 Edelman goodpurpose study was conducted in January and February 2012, covering approximately 8,000 adults in 16 countries. Close to three-quarters of those surveyed (72 percent) said that they would recommend a brand that supports a good cause over one that does not, compared with 52 percent who said the same thing in 2008 when Edelman first started conducting its research.

Perhaps more significantly, 73 percent of those surveyed said they would switch brands if a different brand of the same quality supported a good cause.

"When people buy a brand, they want to know that it supports something," Cone said.

Photo of Latin businessman by rSnapshotPhotos via Shutterstock.

Next page: Americans get less involved