April 03, 2020

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Beyond Demographics: The New Responsible Consumer Profile

Understanding personal responsibility at the point of purchase is just the beginning – companies can use this information to engage consumers.


By Whitney Dailey

Part of the Consumer Perspectives: Turning Insights into Action series

Too often as marketers we try to tailor our strategies based on demographics. Yet, when it comes to engaging consumers around CSR, the approach is not as straightforward. Individuals of all different ages and backgrounds have varying levels of support for companies’ CSR efforts – but we see them come together around a shared belief regarding their personal roles in addressing social and environmental issues through their purchases. To better understand consumer motives and behaviors, we segmented our 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study with the primary filter of personal responsibility. The data revealed four distinct profiles, each demanding different approaches to marketing communications and engagement. Below we explore each profile and its unique drivers, including how consumers believe companies should address CSR issues, what role they feel they play in making purchases and how they want to receive information.

The Old Guard

Likely to be male and over the age of 55, Old Guards do not think their personal purchases play a role in CSR. Their decision-making hinges on traditional values of price, quality and convenience. If they do purchase responsible products, 32 percent say it’s merely by chance. In fact, only one-third (36%) believes their purchases can actually have an impact on social or environmental issues – and more than half (53%) feel companies have minimal or no impact at all.

old guard 2013

Supporting Data:

  • 41% have bought a CSR product in the past 12 months and 31% say they are very likely to switch brands to one that is associated with a cause
  • Top motives if buying CSR-associated products include: improving their own lives (25%) or being consistent with their values (23%)

Counsel for Companies: Keep It Simple!

The Old Guards want to know what companies are doing, but they are not likely to deeply engage. To resonate with this group, companies should keep their CSR messages and activations simple, personal and traditional.

The Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy Go Lucky 2013

The Happy-Go-Lucky – typically between the ages of 18 and 34 and equally likely to be male or female – enjoy knowing they can impact social and environmental issues through their purchases, but doing so doesn’t drive their decisions. Convenience is king, as the Happy-Go-Lucky believe their role is to buy responsibly only if the opportunity presents itself. And although they are optimistic about their ability to positively influence pressing issues through purchasing (72%), it’s not just about doing good; they also need to feel good. Thirty-one percent says “making me feel good” is the primary benefit sought from purchasing responsibly.

Supporting Data:

  • 93% says they would buy products with social and/or environmental benefits, but just two-thirds have actually done so
  • 67% says businesses are positively impacting issues
  • 62% say they engage with companies via social media and are especially likely to share positive information about companies’ CSR efforts with people in their networks (31%)

Counsel for Companies: Give Them Credit!

Companies can win Happy-Go-Lucky’s loyalty by incentivizing CSR purchasing with a dual benefit and communicating the impacts of their personal efforts. Tap this group’s high aspirations to get involved with a simple call-to-action beyond purchasing.

The Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart 2013

The Bleeding Heart – typically female between ages 18 and 34 – is an educated person who goes out of their way to try to save the world with every trip to the store, even though they are unsure of the ultimate impact. The number one benefit Bleeding Hearts seek from responsibly made products is to positively impact society. Yet nearly a third (29 percent) believes they themselves have little to no positive impact, and 38 percent thinks businesses have made equally mediocre progress. Although their hearts may ache for social and environmental problems, the Bleeding Heart does not buy unthinkingly, and more than half (57%) have boycotted products or services they find negligent.

Supporting Data:

  • 69% has bought a product with a social or environmental benefit in the past 12 months, and 93% will switch brands to one associated with a cause when price and quality are equal
  • Want companies to provide opportunities to donate (80%) and volunteer (78%)
  • 64% uses social media to address social and environmental issues

Counsel for Companies: Get Them Involved!

Engagement beyond purchase and communication of societal benefits will be key differentiators for companies to attract Bleeding Hearts. It is also important to leverage a myriad of communication channels as digital savvy group will share both positive and negative information.

The Ringleader

The Ringleaders are typically men and women ages 35+ who aggressively address social and environmental issues, not only through their own consumption, but by rallying others to follow their lead. They go the extra mile to encourage others to purchase responsibly because they strongly believe they can have a significant (45%) impact on issues. Eighty-one percent has purchased responsible products in the past 12 months, and nearly all (92%) have taken CSR into account when deciding which products to recommend to their friends. Perhaps most impressive, 71 percent is very likely to switch brands to ensure they’re purchasing to support a cause. That’s a staggering 50 percent more likely than the Bleeding Hearts (71% vs. 48%).

Ringleader 2013

Supporting Data:

  • 95% wants to hear how companies are operating responsibly and won’t be shy about voicing their own opinions (91%)
  • 47% has researched companies’ business practices in the past 12 months
  • 44% believes business should change the way they operate and 38% advocate in support of issues – holding businesses to the highest standards of all the consumer segments

Counsel for Companies: Put Them to Work for You!

Ringleaders hold companies to the highest CSR standards, so consistent and transparent proof of purpose will be critical to gaining their support. Companies should also continuously offer new and fresh opportunities for engagement as this group stands ready, willing and able to advocate on a company’s behalf to their social networks.

Understanding consumers’ personal responsibility at purchase is just the beginning – companies can use this information to create custom marketing messages for each segment but also build a spectrum of engagement levels to fit each profile’s individual preferences and passion points. To learn more about the Old Guard, Happy-Go-Lucky, Bleeding Heart and Ringleader, download a free copy of the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study.

About the Author:

Whitney Dailey is a senior research associate at Cone Communications on its Research & Insights team, where she works on the development and distribution of industry-leading research studies, including the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study. Her expertise in corporate social responsibility, sustainability and social media helps to guide thought leadership at the agency, as well as the creation of a number of CSR-related tools. Whitney has a personal interest in sustainable food systems, urban gardening and sustainable sites. She tweets at @WhitneyDailey.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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