By Ericka Podesta McCoy, CMO, Resonate
Every time you scan the headlines these days, it would seem a new brand is under siege due to an alleged gaffe in conduct or communications on behalf of the company or its leaders. In some cases, as recently seen with Goya when its CEO expressed support for President Trump, two opposing forces might converge to simultaneously boycott and “buycott” a brand. In this way, an increasingly large base of consumers—representing a wide spectrum of beliefs—are using their wallets to demonstrate their social, cultural and political values.
The continued rise in consumer activism isn’t a blip. It’s the new reality in which brand leaders today must operate—and that reality isn’t static. Consider consumer reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement. According to insights from the Resonate Ignite platform, in early July, 32.5 percent of consumers said they were more likely to purchase from a brand showing BLM support, versus 26.4 percent who said they were less likely to purchase. In less than a month, those percentages of support for brands standing with BLM flipped—down to 28 percent who were more likely to purchase vs. 30.4 percent who were less likely. This is the real-time reality in which brands must operate, not just understanding consumers overall, but their consumers.
For those brands that struggle to understand who their customers are and what drives their purchases, consumer activism represents a threat—a looming and potentially devastating disruption to their already-challenged businesses. But for brands that understand their customers on a deeper, human level—their beliefs, values and motivations—consumer activism is a force to be embraced and channeled to the benefit of both the company and its community.
Consider what consumer insights into customer values and beliefs tell us about the following brands, all of which have aroused consumer activists to some degree in recent years.
Amazon-like many brands of its size and stature—has seen its fair share of calls for boycotts over the years, but the company’s growth has continued unabated. According to an analysis Resonate performed on consumers who tend to let their activism drive their shopping decisions (aka, consumer activists), it’s not surprising that calls to boycott Amazon aren’t gaining traction. Interestingly, consumer activists are way more likely to be multi-product Amazon customers than the average consumer, and they’re not at all inclined to give up the convenience of Amazon based on perceived rights violations or objectionable policies. Our analysis revealed:
- Consumer activists are 76 percent more likely than the average U.S. consumer to have a paid subscription to Amazon Prime Video, 45 percent more likely to own an Amazon Fire TV Stick, 41 percent more likely to stream Amazon Prime Music, and 144 percent more likely to have purchased bed and bath products from Amazon in the last 12 months.
- The issues that consumer activists care about most deeply are not the things Amazon typically gets beat up for in the press. Also, consumer activists shop on convenience even more so than the average consumer. It’s easy to rationalize that Amazon is a necessary evil if you’re a convenience-driven shopper.
- Consumer activists are 209 percent more likely to do business with companies that reduce packaging, and Amazon proudly touts a mission built around sustainability.
- Consumer activists are 43 percent more likely to do business with companies that support charitable organizations, and Amazon’s Smile program(among others) is well-regarded.
- That said, consumer activists are 73 percent more likely to prefer companies that treat employees fairly, and Amazon has received backlash amid the COVID-19 pandemic for not doing that. So, it’s worth noting that consumer activists either don’t always shop their values, or they find convenience to be an overriding factor when making such purchase decisions.
Chic-Fil-A is no stranger to controversy and calls to boycott its products based on the company’s history of donating to charities with anti-LGBTQ stances. However, growth for Chic-Fil-A has remained robust in recent years. A Resonate analysis of Chic-Fil-A customers, when compared to Popeye’s and Bojangles’ customers, suggests why.
Overall, Chic-Fil-A customers are far less likely to prefer companies that listen to the public or support the community than the customers of its closest competitors. As such, Chic-Fil-A customers are driven by other factors when it comes to making purchasing decisions and is particularly unlikely to be swayed by boycott efforts.
If you compare Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ customers, the coffee drinkers have a lot of similarities demographically. In general, both tend to have a higher household income and are more educated than the average consumer. However, Starbucks audiences are 70 percent more likely than the average American to attend a rally or protest, 54 percent more likely to contribute to politics, and 42 percent more likely to volunteer for a political campaign. They tend to lean left in terms of voting. These striking differences in customer bases go a long way toward explaining the traction that recent Starbucks boycott efforts have garnered and why Starbucks is typically very responsive to such protests.
Like Goya, Home Depot has faced criticism and boycotts over its founder’s support of President Trump. However, our analysis of Home Depot shoppers suggests these efforts likely don’t pose much of a threat to the brand. Home Depot shoppers tend to have an improved view of Trump since the pandemic. Even though they are moderately active in societal issues, both Home Depot and Lowe’s shoppers say they are largely unmoved by the pandemic when it comes to how they feel about who they will vote for. But when it comes to brand activism, Lowe’s shoppers are more willing to shop based on an important issue. Home Depot shoppers are less likely to be swayed by a company’s actions.
Every time a brand boycott or buycott takes hold, the natural question is asked: Will it matter? Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it’s no. Above all, it depends on the brand and the group of consumers who are taking action. That’s why robust, real-time intelligence regarding a brand’s customers and prospects has become an essential component of the modern brand’s playbook.