Who Are These Purpose-Driven Consumers?

Jun 03, 2014



And What Do They Want?

A new customer target audience-purpose-driven consumers—has entered the brand lexicon and is altering the marketing landscape.

This rising class of consumers uses its purchasing power to drive social and environmental change, representing both micro- and macro-economic dynamics. Consumers accomplish this by buying products with a purchase-level benefit to a cause (micro), by rewarding socially responsible brands with their ongoing loyalty (macro), or by doing both.

According to an international study fielded in late 2012, a majority of survey respondents—65%—feel an increasing sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society.

Pdc Example3

Purpose—The 5th “P” in the Marketing Equation


Research indicates that the tribe of purpose-driven consumers is large and in charge and gaining traction by the day. This scale is causing companies to consider “purpose” along with the rest of the P's in the marketing equation: price, place, product, and promotion.

But brands can't look at these consumers as one size fits all. There's a wide continuum of self-interest and other motivations driving these consumers, and you need to acknowledge these differences and be prepared to address disparate benefits.

As individuals, purpose-driven consumers are highly self-motivated, from their personal needs to their social desires. On the needs front, research shows that buy-one, get-one free remains a stronger motivator than buy-one, give one. This means your most powerful approach currently is to address self-interest first for the majority of the market. Beyond that, you then have the opportunity to help your customers actualize their dreams by enabling them to participate in creating social good.

In this relationship of fulfilling personal desires, you're not necessarily the good itself, but a fulcrum for achieving it. It's the consumer who gets to be the hero. As such, your brand becomes a way for people to increase their happiness through self-actualization and meaning, and your company derives profit from basking in the supporting role.

Give It Up for the One-for-One Movement


On the micro level, this might be expressed as buying products that are deemed friendly to the environment or that drive a positive social action. A high-profile example of the latter is TOMS shoes, which is a pioneer in the one-for-one movement. When you purchase a pair of shoes, TOM'S donates a pair to a child/person in need. Warby Parkerhas also pioneered this model for eyeglasses, among others in different sectors.

On the macro level, Patagonia comes to mind as a leading company that has prospered in a highly competitive industry for more than 40 years by actively demonstrating its corporate values for sustainability. Patagonia's customers feel good about forming a relationship with the outdoor clothing company. They know that their purchases go toward a larger good. And it adds convenience to their shopping by reducing the consideration set-why look at other brands with similar products when you can save time by buying from a brand you trust?

People Have the Power

I believe this will increasingly be the case, where individuals will entrust and consolidate their purchasing power with brands they trust to act on shared values.

Much of this has happened because people now have the power in the brand relationship. They've obtained this power from the liberating aspects of the digital world, new-found social influence, and a desire to self-actualize their consumption via brands that enable them to do good.

Who Is This Consumer?

Purpose Driven Consumer

Let's put a face on her.

That's right, she.

It's no wonder the personification of a purpose-driven consumer is female. Women donate, volunteer, and advocate for causes far more than men. They drive the dominant share of consumer spending, and they actually hold the majority of wealth in this country.

"Women give to causes close to their heart," says Lisa Dietlin, a Chicago-based philanthropic adviser. 

We Want a Meaningful Relationship

More and more, women are spending their money with brands that are close to their heart and add social value to their purchase, creating a meaningful and potentially long-lasting relationship that is activated and maintained by social impact.

At the heart of this movement are women in the Millennial Generation. Here are some demographics from a research report published in 2013 conducted by Good Must Grow: Your purpose-driven customer is likely 25-32 years of age, has a college degree, and is an active shopper with a household income of less than $50,000. The bulk of the wealth might not reside here, but impetus for overall cultural change does. While they have less wealth and salary to spend, they are far more likely to consider a company's social behaviors or a product's ability to create positive change than other generations.

In part, that's because these women represent a generation that believes individuals are the number one way to drive positive change. This belief is supported by their digital lifestyle and social platforms, and fueled by generational mistrust of institutions.

Understanding the Purposeful Spectrum

Of course, not all purpose-driven consumers are female, and there's a spectrum of purposeful people that needs to be considered. Research conducted by GlobeScanSustainAbility, and BBMG breaks out these customer segments as advocates, aspirationals, practicals, and indifferents:

Purpose Drive Consumer Spectrum
  • Advocates are your die-hards-they are committed to conscious consumerism and represent about 14% of the consumer base. They believe they have a responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society.
  • Aspirationals comprise the largest segment and the biggest brand opportunity. At 37% of consumers, aspirationals are looking to balance sustainability and consumption; are motivated by style and social status; and are seeking (AW) brands that can help them bring this conflict into harmony. Products alone don't satisfy this group. They're searching for a solution. They not only want a shoe that fits, feels good, looks fab, and can be pinned to Pinterest—they want this shoe to serve a larger purpose and help improve someone else's life as well. Bottom line: Shopping equals happy for aspirationals, but this group definitely doesn't want its mellow harshed by feeling bad about consuming. Offering a solution is your route to turning purpose into profit.
  • Practicals, at 34% of consumers, represent the second-largest group. While they're into recycling, they haven't joined the purpose parade yet. As advocates and aspirationals lead the way, practicals will be influenced to follow.
  • Indifferents are 16% of consumers. Just as the tag implies, these polar opposites of advocates probably won't move from their end of the spectrum. They are highly skeptical, motivated by convenience, and value individualism to the max.

It's About Fulfilling Desire—for Meaning

Successful brands have always adapted to the times. If brands add purpose to their marketing efforts, they will avail themselves to a vertical market that's on its way to horizontal and mainstream, if it's not there already.

Brands must approach this opportunity as a long-term commitment that incorporates social cause into their values. This movement toward meaning will require structural change rather than a short-term cosmetic approach of new graphics or a feel-good tagline.

This isn't just about doing the right thing, though that's a good start if your efforts are to resonate with your customers. No, there's also tangible corporate reward for doing this beyond a sense of ethical good. Right now, consumers are telling you they have a genuine desire to bring meaning into every aspect of their lives, and they're looking for relationships with brands and nonprofit causes to help fulfill this. And to any marketing director worth their salt, this spells a profitable customer relationship built on brand loyalty.

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