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People are more likely to trust—and buy—purpose-driven brands

A study finds that when comparing two brands, purpose can make a big difference.

People are more likely to trust—and buy—purpose-driven brands
[Image: ismagilov/iStock]
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When someone sees a logo of a brand they know is purpose-driven, they automatically associate it with words like “responsible,” “compassionate,” and “ethical.” And when someone considers a brand purpose-driven, they’re also more likely to remember it, buy it, and want to work for the company that makes it.

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Those findings are part of a new analysis from the communication firm Porter Novelli that used implicit association—a type of testing often used to uncover unconscious bias—to evaluate how 1,200 consumers reacted to different brands. The process involved showing participants logos and then asked them to instantly associate the brand with particular words. “It helps tell us subconscious associations that consumers have with brands and their attributes,” says Andrea List, vice president of analytics and research at Porter Novelli. “Because this methodology only allows you 800 milliseconds to make a decision about whether you associate a brand with that attribute, you don’t have time to think it through—it’s automatic.”

[Image: foto-ianniello/iStock]
People judged brands based on what’s known as “system one” thinking—automatic, intuitive, and unconscious—rather than “system two” thinking that’s more controlled and analytical. (These are the modes of thinking that Dan Kahneman explains in the classic book Thinking Fast and Slow.) The test compared how people reacted to competing brands, one conventional and one considered purpose-driven, in a handful of categories. There was a clear association with the purpose-driven brands and purposeful words like “trustworthy” or “transparent.”

That association matters when people make decisions about what to buy. In another part of the study, the researchers gave participants a series of purpose-driven attributes and then asked what actions they’d take if a company had those qualities. More than three-quarters said they were more likely to trust the company. Seventy-eight percent were more likely to remember a company with strong purpose; 78% were also more likely to want to work for the company. Seventy-two percent were more likely to be loyal to the company, and 72% also said that they’d be more likely to forgive the company if it made a mistake. Two-thirds said they’d consider the company’s purpose when deciding what to buy, and 71% said they’d buy from a purpose-driven company over the alternative if cost and quality were equal. Sixty-two percent said that they thought it was important to consider purpose even when making an impulse buy.

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“Based on what we know about ‘system one’ versus ‘system two’ thinking, system one thinking is actually much more powerful in terms of driving actions that consumers are taking,” says Whitney Dailey, senior vice president for marketing and research at the firm. “So while we have to think through function rationally, purpose is just kind of deeply embedded into our psyche and the decisions that we’re making.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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