The Rise of the Conscious Consumer and What it Means for Leaders

As a marketer, with the job of bringing the voice, feelings and values of the customer into the organisation, over the years, I have probably driven many of my clients, colleagues and peers a little bit crazy with my obsession around a ‘customer first’ perspective.

But realistically, for the majority of organisations, a business without customers is not really a business. For those that challenge this view, internal customers still figure. Therefore, what other obsession should there be?

Think about the way you yourself now make purchases. Think about the memorable experiences – good and bad. Think about how you yourself are influenced with how you feel about brands and organisations.

And of course, now, you and indeed your customers, are digitally connected consumers.

Now through our social media platforms, not only are we all able to share our views directly to an organisation, but we are also able to share our views with anyone else who is willing to listen, friends, family, strangers, other perspective purchasers – whoever. 

In fact, this week, I was invited to the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s #CIMSummit, and the topic of the importance of reviews was discussed – and the stats show that even in the aftermath of many a ‘fake review’ debate, 70% of consumers trust reviews and 93% consider them before making a purchase.

But beyond the, getting a second, (or two hundredth), opinion, there is also the very real aspect of the ‘conscious consumer’. In my book, Get Social, I refer to them as ‘belief driven buyers’ – you yourself may be one of them.

Belief driven buyers are those who switch, avoid or boycott a brand or product based on its stand on societal issues.

The Edelman 2017 Earned Brand Study, ‘Beyond No Brand’s Land’, with 14,000 respondents across 14 countries, measured the strength of the relationship consumers have with brands. The study identified that shared believes are the most powerful driver of commitment to a brand. Their study identified that 57% of consumers are buying or boycotting brands based on the brands position on a social or political issue. What’s interesting is that this is 30% higher than just 3 years ago.

And just this morning, I’m reading the latest research report from Brandfog, and they refer to a recent survey, ‘Brands and Stands: Social Purpose is the New Black, found that 64% of those who believe that it’s extremely important for a company to take a stand on social issues, also said they were very likely to purchase a product based on that commitment.

For our ever-increasing conscious consumers, silence is not an option. 67% bought a brand for the first time because of its position on a controversial or social issue and 65% stated that they would not buy a brand if it stayed silent on an issue it had an obligation to address.

‘Obligation to address’ is an interesting concept.

Belief driven buyers expect brands to contribute money, time and influence, evident in employee behaviour, day to day business activities, sourcing and advertising, with 51% believing that brands can do more than governments to solve ills.

And belief driven buyers are seeking less talk and more action.

In my book I draw on just two examples around AirBNB’s #weaccept refugee campaign and Campbell Soup’s #twodads campaign.

But just this week at the CIMSummit, I heard evidence of the power of purpose and staying on message, from both SortedFood and The Lonely Planet. Thanks to social media, organisations are organically being born from community, or creating their own communities. These communities have shared values – connecting directly ‘heart to heart’ with the purpose of that business.

Why does the conscious consumer matter to leaders?

Well, as I mention at the outset, a business without customers isn’t really a business. We’ve seen the impact of customers voting with their feet – not just on societal issues that they care about, but also relating to data breaches, privacy scandals etcetera.

Transparency, authenticity, trust – these aren’t just words banded around in slick powerpoint decks, manifestos or mission statements. Instead, they are powerful energies that only resonate when actioned. They’re culturally ingrained values that require constant affirmation.

The CEO is ultimately responsible for that consistent affirmation to customers – both internal customers (employees), and external ones.

And whilst the marketing and communications teams may be responsible for messaging and campaign delivery – ultimately, the purpose of the organisation and the ability of the personality of the person at the top, is an all-important factor.

The CEO may totally ‘get’, the importance of the conscious consumer. They may care deeply about the importance of personally tuning in to their audiences and the landscape. They may care deeply about societal issues – BUT, the critical aspect is are they prepared to be seen, unmask and be transparent. Are they, and if you are the CEO, are YOU, willing to be visible and tell it as it is, straight from the horse’s mouth?

Brandfog’s latest study, revealed that just 7% disagree with the statement ‘When CEOs issue statements about the key social issues of our time, and I agree with the sentiment, I am more likely to make a purchase from that company’ – which means that 93% of customers agree! However, conversely, 84% stated that if they disagreed with the sentiment, they would be less likely to make a purchase from that company.

So… bit of a dilemma then isn’t it. Does the leader keep schtum or take a stand and speak out?

That dilemma comes back to the core purpose and values and realistically, whether the CEO’s values fundamentally align. When they do – then this is where trust and brand advocacy speak for themselves and it’s easy for the CEO to be visible. Steve Murrell, CEO of Co-op is a social CEO continuously living and talking about the values with his online audiences. Leading by example. John Legere, another social CEO, is again consistently and overtly listening and chatting to employees and customers, telling it as it is from his perspective. And there are many more examples. Yet, whilst the numbers of CEOs visible and accessible to their audiences continue to grow, it’s certainly not business as usual for the majority.

There’s no doubt about it, our technically enabled ‘savvy consumers’ – are constantly evolving the connectability the networks enable. They connect with likeminded folk and join and build communities, conversations and influence around their values. They are less enamoured by big brand advertising and more influenced by people they trust, like and know (regardless of whether they’ve ever physically met them).

So, my question to leaders is… how do you personally connect with your customers?

Michelle Carvill - Digital Educator. Strategic Marketer. Three times published author. Latest book ‘Get Social - Social Media Strategy and Tactics for Leaders, published by Kogan Page, May 2018. Need help with Digital Marketing or Social Media Strategy for your organisation, leadership team or yourself? Get in touch via

Michelle Carvill