Lisa Dubina
Lisa is Associate Director, Culture & Identity, on the Mintel Reports US team, responsible for creating reports focused on the underlying psychographic factors that impact how consumers identify and express themselves, as well as purchase behaviors across categories.

Interest and participation in social causes are becoming more widespread among US consumers. With over half of the US population qualifying as ‘conscious consumers,’ value-based marketing and cause-driven business practices are becoming more expected of brands. Conscious consumers’ outlook on, and expectations for, brand social engagement can provide brands direction on the most effective ways to build a socially conscious brand reputation that’s authentic and impactful.

Social awareness and engagement are becoming more mainstream

Over half of American consumers are conscious consumers who have participated in at least one socially conscious activity in the past year. ‘Primary activists,’ a subsegment of conscious consumers, continue to be a smaller subset of the general population; however, it is still an important segment for brands to understand and pay attention to as they are most likely to see their consumer spend and interaction with brands as an extension of their social consciousness.

Social engagement is not the same as social activism

The majority of consumers consider social engagement to be an element of social activism. While all social activism involves social engagement, not all social engagement is social activism. Social activism is more directly tied to politics and working to change public policy, while social engagement can be apolitical in consumers’ opinion.

Conscious consumers’ social concern spans a range of social causes and movements

Consumers rank racial justice, climate change, and ending gun violence as the social issues they consider the most pressing and in need of support today. There’s also distinct interest across consumer segments for brands to support and call attention to the issue of mental health and wellbeing.

Consumers want, but are also skeptical of, brands’ support of social causes

Over half of the total population feel brands have a responsibility to support social causes in a way that’s authentic and impactful. However, the majority also feel that brands are simply looking to win consumers’ favor and spending dollars with their social engagement efforts. The consensus is that not all brands need to be socially active, but when they are, the social engagement needs to be actionable, genuine, and aligned with the brand’s values and mission.

Authenticity and accountability are key to brands’ social engagement

Mintel Trend Driver ‘Rights’ refers to consumers’ need to feel respected, protected, and supported, and these themes help explain consumers’ growing expectations for brands when it comes to actively participating in social awareness and engagement.

As the adage goes, brands need to walk the walk and not simply talk the talk. If looking to become involved in social engagement, brands need to ensure their internal practices align with the goals of their social consciousness. Nearly three in five primary activists and nearly half of conscious consumers view cancel culture as a way to hold brands accountable for their promises and actions. More than half of Americans and three-quarters of primary activists feel brands have a responsibility to support social issues in a meaningful and impactful way.

However, social engagement does not have to look the same across brands, and, depending on a brand’s values and mission, social engagement efforts can remain apolitical according to the majority of consumers. Consumers do expect brands to be genuine and authentic in social support; they do not feel brands should tailor their social engagement to their consumers’ beliefs but rather support causes and issues that align with the brand’s mission and values.

Newly-release data and analysis from Mintel Reports US, Social Awareness and Engagement, 2021 looks at consumers’ opinions about, and participation in, social awareness and engagement, the social issues consumers they say are the most pressing, consumer expectations for brands’ participation in social awareness and engagement, and opportunities for brands to engage with consumers through authentic and impactful social engagement efforts. Mintel clients can log in now to view the full report or speak with their Account Manager. If you’re not a Mintel client, learn more and buy the report today by visiting the Mintel Store