As More Consumers Than Ever Make Belief-Driven Purchases, It’s Worth It for Brands to Take a Stand

Edelman report shows consumers want brands to have beliefs

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Headshot of Diana Pearl

Taking a stand isn’t just about doing what’s right; it’s increasingly become what’s best for business, too.

A new report from Edelman released today called “Beyond No Brand’s Land” looks at what drives brand attention and loyalty. The report found that consumers’ purchases are becoming more and more “belief-driven,” particularly over the past year.

According to the report, 65 percent of global consumers are making belief-driven purchases, a 50 percent year-over-year increase. It’s a trend that stretches around the world, too. In every market surveyed, there were more consumers taking a brand’s mission and activism into account when making decisions about what to buy. Even more striking is that consumers today see a brand’s values as being equally as important as a product’s features when contemplating a purchase. Taking a stand, no matter the cause, is no longer something brands can shy away from if they want to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds.

Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, said that increase is likely due to two factors: growing uncertainty about the state of the world today and growing pressure from challenger brands. According to Edelman, people who don’t feel government represents them or their interests are looking to brands to provide a large-scale moral compass—and rewarding those that do.

“Brands are a way to express your opinions and have someone respond,” he said. “In this case, people go with their pocketbooks in a way. They want business to take the lead on change, and they want to feel as if they’re making an impact.”

Several brands have notably aligned with causes over the past year, from Dawn’s partnership with wildlife rescuers to Nike’s now-famous support of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. However, taking a stand—and attracting belief-driven buyers along the way—can take many forms. Edelman pointed to campaigns like Dove’s “Real Beauty” as a relatively low-risk way for a brand to align itself with a cause, while Nike’s Kaepernick ad, he said, is at the other end of the spectrum, taking more of an activist stance.

“Some brands will express themselves through purpose,” Edelman said. “But you also can get into answering cultural issues or even activism. Companies and brands can choose what suits them.”

But brands should also be sure that what they’re choosing is something their employees appreciate, too. “Take on something that makes your employees feel like they want to get charged up,” Edelman said.

Purchase behavior isn’t only fueled by positive associations with brands’ beliefs, but negatives ones, too. When brands, especially those that lean more on the side of activism, take a stand, they might prompt customers to walk away (as a few on social media appeared to do after the release of the Nike ad). The risk, however, is worth the potential payoff, Edelman said.

“Recognize that not everyone is going to love what you do, but do something,” he said.

@dianapearl_ Diana is the brand marketing editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.