Consumers more likely to ‘forgive’ purposeful brands: study

A new APAC study from Zeno Group shows that purpose is here to stay—so long as brands are authentic in their messaging.


Based on Zeno Group’s annual Strength of Purpose report which surveyed 5,000 consumers across APAC, purpose is not going anywhere. The report—covering Singapore, Malaysia, India, China and Australia—showed that consumers in Asia are eight times more likely to buy from brands they believe to have a strong purpose, a two-fold increase from last year’s research. 

Interestingly, while 96 per cent of respondents say brand purpose is important, only half of that believe that most brands have a strong purpose. And based on the research, this ‘purpose gap’ is highest in Singapore and Australia, and lowest in China.

“It's interesting higher GDP markets (per head) we surveyed in the region tend to perceive brands as less purposeful than in other markets,” Paul Mottram, regional president at Zeno, told PRWeek Asia.

“There's more scepticism in those markets than others but we don't believe there's any reason to suggest that brands in those markets are less purposeful. The answer lies in the perceptions of the consumer, rather than what brands are doing.”

The most important values that APAC consumers want to see include honesty, safety, social responsibility, authenticity, sustainability, and loyalty. And the most important elements that consumers wish to see in a brand are to offer products or services that accurately reflect the needs of people today, and treating employees equally well regardless of rank among other factors.

There’s enough data now that draws the link between purpose-driven brands and brand perception, but the question that still stumps marketers and communicators is the extent of which their purpose should be communicated.

“It’s very easy to talk about purpose but consumers demand to see substantiation of that,” said Mottram. “They want to see their values reflected in not only the marketing of brands, but the behaviour of brands as well. And so from our perspective, purpose isn't just something that you say, it's something that a company needs to live.”

It should all begin with a company being able to articulate their purpose internally, Mottram added. On top of that, Zeno’s research suggests that consumers expect business and brand leaders to live by their company purpose as well. 

“If there was an authentic commitment to come from corporate and brand purpose within an organisation, then substantiating it through action becomes much more straightforward. That's because PR departments and marketing departments don't need to make stuff up about purpose, they will have more authentic stories to tell,” he said.

Especially in APAC, Mottram said that the ESG side of purpose tends to be dominated by investors and stakeholders rather than marketing departments.

“Linking up those two sides of the business is not straightforward. It’s about getting beyond the data, the historical legacy, the piecemeal approaches to purpose and philanthropy,” he said.

“Being able to piece together the various good things that their company is doing, that's something our clients often grapple with. Many companies in this part of the world have programmes that they do in terms of philanthropy or giving back. So for example, they may sponsor a youth orchestra or they may donate to a particular charity. But in many cases, those efforts are not tied to the fundamental purpose of the business.”

Research showed that nearly all respondents across markets and generations are more likely to support a brand making a profit if they have a ‘positive impact’ on the world. They are also more likely to ‘forgive’ a purposeful brand for missteps or if they were on the end of public criticism.

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