How can brand activism impact consumer sentiment?

Ray MartinChief Executive Officer, Americas
December 06, 2022, 2:00 PM GMT+0

Making bold business decisions that can disrupt the market and draw people to your brand requires a deep, up-to-the-minute understanding of your current and potential customers.

From their likes and dislikes, through their values and immediate needs, to how they’ll perceive and respond to your products, ads, and actions, it’s imperative that you’re able to accurately predict and measure consumer mindsets.

Today’s social and digital marketing landscape is always on. Brands don’t have the luxury of months or even weeks to conduct market research. Gen Z consumers, especially, expect brands to take a stand on issues and respond in real-time to current events.

At YouGov, we are focused on building the world’s leading platform for consumer intelligence, powering data-led decision-making and informed conversations. With our panel of 22 million consumers around the world — including more than 5 million in the US — we allow marketers to complete surveys in just 24 hours, to track and compare brand preference with over a decade of historical data, and to slice and dice audience profiles with more than 2 million data variables.

With access to this kind of living consumer intelligence, brands are positioned to move quickly and confidently in response to social upheavals and trends, choosing when — and when not — to assert themselves into the conversation.

Brand activism at work

DICK’s Sporting Goods is a prime example of a brand that has chosen to take a stand on highly divisive social issues. Following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018, CEO Ed Stack announced DICK’s would remove assault-style semiautomatic rifles from its stores. Then, after the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade earlier this year, the nation’s largest sports equipment retailer announced it would reimburse employees who needed to travel out of state to receive a legal abortion.

While not without its risks in a starkly divided nation, the retailer’s brand activism has resonated well with its customers. According to data from YouGov Profiles, our advanced tool for analyzing consumer segments, 51% of DICK’s customers say they like it when brands get involved in social issues (vs. 45% of all US adults). DICK’s customers are also more likely to say they would buy from a brand that expresses a view I agree with in advertisements, over-indexing by a margin of 66% vs. 60% for the general population.

DICK’s brand activism has boosted its reputation with the broader US population. The retailer emerged as one of the most improved brands year-over-year in our 2022 US Top Improvers ranking, with big gains in consumer perceptions of Quality, Reputation and Recommend brand health metrics.

However, YouGov BrandIndex allows us to identify that the greatest reputational gains have been among consumers who state that they like it when brands get involved in social issues. Among that segment, DICK’s net Reputation score surged in the first quarter of 2019 and has remained above 60 for much of the past four years.

Mixing business with politics can be tricky

DICK’s Sporting Goods outspoken stance on social issues in recent years is an example of a company knowing its customers and doing it right. But, without up-to-date consumer insights, brands run the risk of customer backlash if they take a position and are perceived as inauthentic or disingenuous in their activism.

The recent groundswell of brands becoming more vocal over socio-political issues has left many consumers wondering whether brands stated commitments to social issues are reflected in their policies and actions, or if they are just paying lip service.

Indeed, a new poll conducted through YouGov Survey Direct shows that 74% of US consumers believe that some brands that speak on social issues are merely taking advantage of the issues to attract or retain customers.

The potential backlash can deepen to the extent of a consumer boycott if a brand doesn’t do its research to understand what matters to its customers. Over half (58%) of respondents in the recent survey say they’re willing to boycott a brand if it takes a stance on a social issue they don’t agree with.

But rather than shy away from having a voice on key social issues, what this shows is a need for more sophisticated segmentation by brands to align with their customers’ values and connect with them in more personalized ways.

After all, consumers still have a strong belief in brands’ role in societal good: six in 10 (59%) believe brands have the resources to enact real change. Brand activism can build loyalty and preference, if it is based on a nuanced understanding of your customers.

YouGov’s living consumer intelligence can help brands and agencies with this in several ways:

  • Fast turn-around surveys: Leveraging our panel of more than 5 million US consumers, we can target granular audiences and get answers to key questions or test brand messages in just 24 hours. Start building a survey yourself using our new self-serve Survey Direct platform, or speak to an expert researcher to design your study.
  • Brand tracking: YouGov BrandIndex is a powerful, daily brand and competitor tracking tool, which tracks more than 27,000 brands across 54 global markets, measuring 16 vital brand health metrics. You can sign up for a free account and get a snapshot of your brand’s performance using BrandIndex Lite. We also offer a tailored Social Change Monitor to stay informed on the most important issues.
  • Audience profiles: Our YouGov Profiles tool lets you build a portrait of your customers entire world with unrivalled granularity. Find the audience that matters most to you by analyzing across 2 million data variables. You can get a high-level view for free with Profiles Lite.

As well as our researchers with expertise across key industries, one of our unique capabilities is how our audience profile and brand measurement tools interlock and combine to give brands and companies a full picture of what’s going on with their key audiences. It’s an incredibly powerful framework that enables our clients to act quickly and confidently in today’s complex and fast-changing socio-political environment.

Contact YouGov to understand how its living consumer intelligence can help you.