Most marketers have questions about navigating social values: Is the growing chorus in favor of brand activism the signal or merely noise? How should brands respond? To answer these questions, we built an analytical model to identify the values-motivated consumer

Social Values Permeate The Consumer-Brand Conversation, But They Do Not Always Shape Consumer Action

Today, like never before, a new social consciousness permeates commerce. Consumers are vocal about their social positions, and they pledge to stand firmly behind companies that do the right thing while threatening to chastise those that do not. The trade press is rife with examples of consumers demanding brand activism in matters of the environment, racial justice, gender equality, and so much more. A significant share of buying decisions and brand relationships, it would appear, is predicated upon social value alignment.

But that old research bugbear of consumers seldom doing what they say they will do returns to haunt those trying to measure the impact of this new social value consciousness.

Data that supports the consumers’ intent to be social-values-based is overwhelming, but the evidence to support consumers’ willingness to take action in support of these social values is often lacking. Actions fall short of intent. Consumers are 10 times more likely to rank quality and value as the most important brand attribute, versus the brand’s impact on the community. Over 90% of consumers claimed they would reward or punish brands based on how they treat employees during the pandemic; only 9% of those who changed brands during this time did so based on how employees were treated (in contrast, 42% did so based on product availability).

We Estimate True Market Impact By Focusing On The Values-Motivated Consumers

The difficulty in assessing the impact of social values on brand choice is that one often has to resort to either attitudinal data that does not correlate with behavior or anecdotal evidence from high-profile examples that are salient but not representative. To address this deficit, we embarked on a two-year project to analyze consumer data connected to social values and brand choice. We first tested our hypotheses using 2020 data and then validated our findings in 2021 using the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics® Media And Marketing Recontact Survey, 2021.

In our analyses, we identified and isolated a group of consumers among the US buying population who not only lay claim to being values-driven but act upon these claims. We call this group the values-motivated consumer. Motivation (from the Latin root movere) suggests movement, and our goal is to look past those who only claim that values matter to find those who are moved to act upon these values. In other words, these consumers put their money where their mouth is.

Our Analysis Shows That Values-Motivated Consumers Make Up 18% Of The US Buying Population


This number may strike you as lower than the media hullabaloo suggests. But that isn’t surprising, because we stripped out the bluster and focused solely on demonstrated intent. That said, 18% is still a significant slice that ought to command any marketer’s attention. Our profiling analysis also shows (and this will probably come as a surprise to many) that the values-motivated consumer is remarkably like the average US online adult in terms of gender, income, and educational attainment. There is, however, one stark demographic difference: age — younger consumers are much more motivated by social values. For example, one out of 10 Baby Boomers is a motivated consumer, compared with one out of four Millennials. This has significant implications for brands, as younger consumers will obviously displace the older ones over time.

Even For Values-Motivated Consumers, You Can’t Ignore The Core Tenets Of A Good Brand Experience

Values-motivated consumers care about social values, but they also care tremendously, and much more so, about the fundamentals of a product or service offering; factors such as product quality and value are more important to them than environmental and community factors. Don’t be misled into believing that they will cut you much slack if your brand fails to deliver its core promises around value and utility.

How Motivated Are Your Customers?

Use the 18% data point as a starting point, then customize the analysis to your category purchase drivers, competitive intensity, availability of substitutes, and so on. But also don’t forget that there are broader social trends that are causing step changes in attitudes. If you’ve been reading my work on race and gender, you will know that the collective conscience of the near future looks very different from today. Projected demographic trends from our analyses support predictions for the continued growth of a socially motivated brand-consumer relationship. Do your segmentation for today, but also plan to stay relevant for the future.

Read The Report For A Deep Dive Into The Values-Motivated Consumer …

If you are a Forrester client, you can read the report to get a richer picture of who the values-motivated consumer is in terms of demographics, attitudes, and brand and media preferences. You’ll also find recommendations on how to incorporate our findings into your brand and marketing strategy. The report can be found here: The Values-Motivated Consumer — How Social Values Shape Brand Choice And Engagement Among US Consumers.

… And Join Me At CX North America

I’ll dive deep into this subject at CX North America, which will take place from June 7–9, 2022, both online and in person in Nashville. I hope to see you there!