Responding In Crisis: How Brands Show Up Influence Consumer Loyalty

June 8, 2020 Author: Mario X. Carrasco

In early May, we took the temperature of consumers in the U.S. to learn how they view brands that support social causes. In general, corporate engagement in social and environmental causes has a positive impact on consumer perceptions and purchase intent for brands. But, in light of George Floyd’s death and the continued acts of lethal violence against communities of color, we are curious to learn how these dynamics have shifted in the wake of the current racial climate in America. But this research still provides insight into consumer sentiment toward corporate social good overall.

In our ThinkNow Corporate Social Responsibility™ report, research shows that four in five consumers surveyed report they are either more likely to buy from or think more favorably about companies and brands that donate money or resources for social causes. That positive impact of giving to social causes decreases with age and is flat across ethnic/race segments, however. It is strongest among Gen Z and significantly weaker among Baby Boomers.

During times of crisis, consumer expectations of companies and brands increase. Nearly 75% of consumers surveyed feel it’s important that companies make donations to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them, Hispanics, women, and Boomers are significantly more likely to feel this way.

Consumers look to brands during a crisis to see how they raise social consciousness and use their platforms to help. They also use this information to determine if they will continue to engage that brand after the crisis abates. During the George Floyd protests, for example, major brands like Nike, Ben & Jerry’s, and many others have launched marketing campaigns to show solidarity against racism and social injustice.  

By and large, however, consumers are still split in their views of corporate social responsibility and marketing messages of support during the pandemic. It is fair to assume the same for messages in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Close to half of consumers feel the sentiment is genuine.

But not all consumers are impressed. Gen Z and Millennial consumers are particularly quick to hold brands accountable, using online resources to back or dismantle marketing messages and expose brands masquerading as good corporate citizens. Our research shows that these cohorts are more likely to report skepticism when asked how they feel when brands say, "we're in this together." Over 40% of 18 to 38-year olds believe brands are only showing up to capitalize on the vulnerability a crisis creates. 

This speaks to a broader sentiment of consumers looking to spend their dollars with companies whose corporate culture and messaging are in tune with their ideals and beliefs. Loose attempts at grabbing customer attention with one-off social good campaigns are not only obvious but also threatens the viability of the customer relationship, which can have catastrophic effects on your brand.

To be a true steward of corporate social responsibility, real leadership starts from within and shows up every day. Back up your marketing campaigns with real action. Diversify your boards, hire multicultural workforces, and support your employees.

Solidarity is not merely a statement, and social justice is not a marketing campaign. Real change happens when we actively refuse to tolerate injustice of any kind and use our platforms to give a voice to the change that consumers hope for and wish to see.

Download this study.