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Canadians Turning Away From Brands That Don’t Reflect Their Values: Study

Businesses that aren’t “purpose-led” stand to lose out in an era when consumers see brands as extensions of themselves.
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MONTREAL — Businesses, take note: The days when all you needed to care about was the bottom line may be coming to an end. Chances are, your customers will demand more.

A new survey from corporate services firm Accenture found that more than half of Canadian consumers — 55 per cent — prefer to buy brands that reflect their personal values and beliefs, and are staying away from brands that don't. An equal percentage of American respondents felt the same way.

More than a third (37 per cent) of Canadian respondents in the global survey said they have stopped doing business with a company because they found its actions objectionable. American respondents were somewhat more likely to have boycotted a company, with 42 per cent saying they have done so.

Watch: How Gillette, other brands use advertising to tap into social movements. Story continues below.

"Consumers are attracted to organizations that are committed to using good quality ingredients (83 per cent), treat employees well (66 per cent), and believe in reducing plastics and improving the environment (58 per cent)," Accenture said in a statement.

The results suggest that companies like Nike, Pepsi and Gillette — who have all recently put out socially conscious messaging tied to their brands — may be on to something, as are fast food chains, like McDonald's and A&W, which have been working to improve food quality.

But maybe more importantly, it suggests that businesses that aren't "purpose-led," as the Accenture survey phrases it, may suffer financially down the road.

There's a "strong correlation" between companies that perform well financially and those that are "checking the box for ethical, sustainable behaviour," said Kelly Askew, Accenture Canada's managing director for strategy.

Askew sees a few reasons for why this is happening now. One is the increasing influence of social media, which has exposed many people to various criticisms of business practices, as well as campaigns to pressure corporations to change their behaviour in some way.

Additionally, people are more conscious of how the brands they associate with reflect on themselves.

"People are becoming increasingly concerned about how they brand themselves, and they see the products and services they consume as extensions of themselves," Askew told HuffPost Canada.

Companies are increasingly taking overt political stances as well. For example, Netflix Canada got a shot of attention in December when it tweeted a reference to Ontario Premier Doug Ford's roll-back of the sex-ed curriculum.

"Increasingly we're going to see companies being pushed to take a political stance that they never would have in the past," Monica LaBarge, an assistant professor of marketing at Queen's University, told HuffPost Canada last month.

People are becoming increasingly concerned about how they brand themselves, and they see the products and services they consume as extensions of themselves.Kelly Askew, Accenture Canada

There's always a risk with this sort of strategy, "but the company balances the risk against who they believe their customers are."

There may be less pay-off to taking sides in specific political battles, as opposed to other forms of socially conscious messaging. Askew noted that 29 per cent of Canadian respondents said it's important for companies to take a political stance, compared to 57 per cent who said companies should reflect "ethical values" and "authenticity."

And those companies that find themselves on opposite sides of an issue from their customers will likely get an earful about it. The survey found 61 per cent of surveyed Canadians, and 64 per cent of Americans, believe they can change a company's actions through boycotts and speaking out on social media.

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