Consumers in the United States are no longer making decisions based solely on product selection or price; they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for. They support companies whose brand purpose aligns with their beliefs. And they reject those that don’t, with one in five walking away forever.
Consumers’ expectations that brand purpose will align with their values pose a challenge for US companies. But expectations for brand purpose also present an opportunity for companies to build more differentiated, authentic and profitable relationships.
Three guiding principles set purpose-driven brands apart.
Accenture Strategy’s most recent global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers in 35 countries—including more than 2,000 consumers in the United States—found that 62 percent of them want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues such as sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices.
Companies that don’t align with customer beliefs pay the price.
Nearly half of US consumers who are disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it.
42 percent of consumers walk away from the brand in frustration. One in five (21 percent) never come back.
Consumers’ expectations of brands aligning with their personal values is a challenge for companies. But these expectations also present an opportunity for companies to demonstrate competitive agility by building more authentic and profitable relationships with customers.
To better understand the importance of brand purpose to US companies' competitiveness, Accenture Strategy examined the beliefs and expectations of 5,000+ urban consumers in 11 US cities.
Click on a pin to see a city-specific infographic:
Who does your brand belong to?
Until recently, a brand belonged to the company that invested in shaping, growing and monetizing it. This is no longer the case. Brands are now community property belonging to shareholders and employees, as well as customers who now demand experiences on their terms, influence others to buy (or not), co-develop products and services, and even act as sales channel partners.
While business leaders, investors and employees all bring essential perspectives and capabilities to a brand’s identity, customers provide insights through their words and actions that enable purpose-driven companies to hone their competitive agility.
Indeed, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of American consumers surveyed believe their words and actions—from posting comments on social media to participating in boycotts—can influence a brand’s reaction to an event or its stance on an issue of public concern.
To affinity and beyond
Consumers are highly valuable stakeholders who insist on transparency at the corporate level and expect meaningful products, services and promises. They act as champions of brands they believe in—and foils to those they don’t.
Price, product quality and customer experience are important attributes, but companies looking to build their competitive agility need to find new ways to stand out.
Brand purpose provides the differentiation that many seek. It is the foundation of every experience, the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and necessary. Importantly, a brand’s purpose must be as unique as the brand itself. SunTrust, the seventh-largest bank in the United States, clearly understands this. It has the financial clout of a multinational bank, but much of its success can be attributed to its purpose-driven reputation as a reliable local bank focused on developing personal relationships and helping customers gain financial confidence.
While brand purpose must be carefully honed and aligned to the values of customers, certain dimensions outshine others. In the United States, such dimensions include brand quality, culture and transparency.
pur·pose /ˈpərpəs /
Noun: The reason why something exists. For companies, it is the foundation of every experience. It is the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and necessary.
Accenture Strategy’s research identified factors that influence the form a brand purpose might take and how it will affect competitiveness:
Companies in the United States and other mature markets are more likely to expand their focus from individual experiences to collective values and shared experiences.
Brand purpose is less important for companies producing basic, essential "utility" products such as laundry detergent than for brands that offer an "experience."
New, smaller brands often use their purpose as a competitive strategy against larger rivals whose brand meaning has long been tied to product quality.
The age of the target customers can help US companies determine how to focus their brand purpose.
US companies will find it easier to activate a purpose that is relevant on a group scale when they engage a brand ecosystem.
Activate your brand purpose
Three guiding principles set purpose-driven brands apart in the United States.
Be human. Involve customers, employees and the larger ecosystem of stakeholders to identify shared values and areas where the company can make a difference. Communication is key, as more than half of US consumers find brands that actively communicate their purpose more attractive.
Be clear and authentic. Consumers don’t fall for insincere attempts to pull at heartstrings. They do, however, reward authenticity, strong leadership and outspokenness. Our research found that almost 60 percent of US consumers are influenced to buy a brand, product or service by the words, actions, values and beliefs of a company’s senior executives and other employees.
Be creative. American companies should focus less on investing for customers and more on investing with their new ecosystem partners to drive competitive agility. From acting as sales partners through channels they control or influence, to participating in crowdsourcing schemes to fund new innovations, there’s virtually no limit to the roles consumers can play.
Stand up to stand out
US companies that stand for something bigger than what they sell, tune into customers’ beliefs and take decisive action on social issues are more likely to recast their customer relationships and connect with consumers on a deeper level.
Activating the purpose-led brand puts the traditional view of “customer as buyer” to bed forever. Instead, US companies have the opportunity to create a community of loyal, engaged and valuable brand stakeholders—all working together to usher in the next era of engagement and competitiveness.
Reach out to our authors to learn more about the purpose-led brand.