Capturing Consumer Demand for Social Impact
October 23, 2014

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

My Mission Measurement colleague, Sue Tobias, and I were struck by a recent BCG report entitled “An Imperative for Consumer Companies to Go Green.” This report highlights the increasing consumer preference for “organic, natural, ecological, fair trade” and other socially responsible products. Notably it indicates that even in historically difficult growth categories, “responsible” products generated two-thirds of the growth.

This profound change in the marketplace presents an opportunity for brands to market to consumers in new ways. And leading brands, whether they sell clothes, cars, or sandwiches, are overcoming the difficulty of differentiating based on price and convenience by delivering products that offer meaningful social impact, in the form of intrinsic social benefits — those things that have a direct, positive impact on the life of that consumer, their family or their community.

The question is: how can you determine which causes and social strategies will actually move the business needle? It is a particularly challenging issue given so many CSR programs and cause marketing campaigns don’t. Indeed, this very challenge was forefront in our minds when Mission Measurement created the Social Value Index™ (SVI) — which provides unique and actionable insights to help companies better leverage social impact for business growth.

Our recent Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) category research is a great example. Using discrete choice analysis, our review of 40 QSR chains quantified consumer demand for 57 benefits, both traditional (taste, price, convenience) and social (health, freshness). The results were telling –intrinsic social benefits accounted for 7 of 10 of the top benefits that influence consumer choice. Even more surprising perhaps was the fact that things like recyclable packaging, giving to charity and encouraging employee volunteerism mattered little to consumers. While these activities may have very legitimate purposes — like reducing costs or boosting reputation — they have little direct effect on purchase behavior in QSR.

Net net, those brands like Chipotle, Panera and Pret-A-Manger, which deliver benefits that improve the quality of their consumers lives and make consumers feel good about their meal purchases came out on top. Pret A Manger emphasizes its “good natural food.” Panera has successfully focused on using additive free ingredients and sustainably farmed chicken. Chipotle’s transparency about its supply chain brings credibility and believability to its brand purpose of serving “Food with Integrity.” So they were at the top of the QSR SVI. But more important than being on the top of the list, it’s no coincidence that these same chains are also those growing fastest. In fact, there is a strong correlation between a high score on the SVI, and revenue growth.

The bottom line is this: consumer demand is shifting, and consumers are rewarding brands for delivering a new category of benefits. This pattern is the same across categories ranging from ready to drink beverages to household cleaning products. Today’s consumers prefer brands that can make a meaningful social impact on their lives. And if you want to effectively capitalize on this, you must first identify which social benefits truly motivate your consumers.