How Social Issues Impact Buying Trends

In last week’s ThinkTank I wrote about the importance of marketing to Millennials in terms that they understand and will react to positively.

Millennials represent 80 million in the US, and they have a strong place in our offices, factories, and business establishments all across our country. They have money to spend on all types of products and services. As I pointed out, their needs are quite different from Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s and how you market products and get their attention should be more focused on their specific needs and wants.

As I continue to study the buying mentality of all generations, there is another factor entering consumers minds, and that is a company’s position on social issues. I subscribe to Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter and its author, Alan Murray, pointed out an important study done recently by Flieshman Hillard on this exact topic.

Here is Mr. Murray’s note about this study:

The folks at Fleishman Hillard have a report out this morning saying that 61% of “engaged” consumers believe it is important for companies to express their views on key social issues. Among millennials, that number increases to 75%. And the report suggests a majority of those consumers will adjust their buying habits accordingly. “People are making purchase decisions based on whether they agree or don’t agree with the positions of a company,” said Kristin Hollins, who leads the firm’s corporate reputation practice in the Americas. And corporate leaders are feeling the pressure. “It’s no longer an option to stay silent.”
You can see the study here.

Here are the positions the study says are must have’s for companies to take a stand socially:

(% of engaged Consumers expectations and associated rank order.)
1-49% Sexual Harassment
2-48% Acceptance of Diverse Ethnic Customs and Traditions.
3-45% Data Security
4-45% Gender Pay Gap
5-45% Outsourcing Jobs
6-45% Unemployment

The Study also pointed out other Issues to watch are related to Freedom of Speech, Access to Healthcare, Affordable Health Care, Domestic Violence, Poverty and Affordable Housing.

The Study looked at this question across four distinct age demographics, and one, in particular, surprised me. The most vocal generation speaking out today about socials issues, especially via social media, are Millennials. But as this study points out, what they call the Silent Generation, those over 73 years of age, and many boomers, have even stronger feelings about a company’s social position when it comes to their view of the company they buy from or deal with in their lives.

For example, 76% of the Silent Generation says Sexual Harassment is high on their list of concerns while for Gen X, only 51% say it is a concern, and for Millennials it is only 46%. On the subject of Data Security, 62% of the Silent Generation and 61% of Boomers say it is an issue while only 34% of Millennials see it as a concern. The results are similar for things like Data Privacy, Racism, acceptance of religious beliefs, Gender Discrimination and Equality and Gender Pay Gap.

Two things strike me about this report. First, companies no longer can remain on the sidelines when it comes to social issues. I think Social media and the 24 hour new’s channels are making it hard for people to stay silent anymore and are being challenged to view what they buy and what companies they deal with through their personal belief prisms. As this report points out, what a company believes on social issues are becoming important to peoples buying criteria and habits.

Clearly, Apple understands this and has not shied away from making their views on social positions well known. Yes, they make great products that are in high demand, but the company has always been one to speak out on social issues and are following the lead of Steve Jobs’s, one of the more brilliant marketing minds we have ever had in the world of business. If this report is accurate, companies positions on social issues is not a passing fancy and are likely to become more important in how people view companies they deal with or buy from in the future.

The second thing that strikes me is how the silent generation is taking a solid position on social subjects and what they expect from the companies they deal with. Since they are not as vocal or that engaged on social media, I don’t think most of us were aware of the fact that they are factoring social issues into their views about the way to look at companies they interact with and buy from.
There are other interesting findings in this Fleishman Hillard report, and I recommend readers take an closer look at their research, which to me was very illuminating on this important issue for companies and marketers.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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