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More than two out of five Americans say they have purchased a product in the past year specifically because it was associated with a social or environmental cause (41%), double the figure from a similar 1993 survey, according to research from Cone Inc. This article is copyright 2010 The Best Customer Guide.

The 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study also found that 83% of US consumers said they want more of the products, services and retailers they use to benefit worthy causes.

Interestingly, the nation's ongoing economic woes have not deterred consumers' social sentiment, nor indeed their expectations that companies should somehow benefit society, with 81% saying that companies should financially support causes at the same level or higher during an economic downturn.

It appears business did rise to this challenge, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers believing that companies responded well to social and environmental issues during the recession.

Americans' enthusiasm for cause marketing also emerged from the economic turmoil fully intact, and continues to strongly influence their purchase decisions. For example:

  • 88% say it is acceptable for companies to involve a cause or issue in their marketing;
  • 85% have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause they care about;
  • 80% are likely to switch brands, similar in price and quality, to one that supports a cause.

Not only are consumers willing to switch among similar brands, but they are also willing to step outside their comfort zones. When it supports a cause:

  • 61% of Americans say they would be willing to try a new brand or one unfamiliar to them;
  • 46% would try a generic or private-label brand;
  • Nearly one-in-five consumers (19%) would be willing to purchase a more expensive brand.

"When price and quality are equal, we know most consumers will choose the product benefiting the cause," said Alison DaSilva, executive vice president for Cone. "But cause alignment can have an even bigger influence on consumer choice, pushing them to experiment with something different and unfamiliar. Cause branding is a prime opportunity for companies to extend beyond their traditional market and increase exposure to potential new consumers."

Finally, when it comes to the causes that businesses should support, consumers felt that companies should prioritise issues close to home, in local communities (46%) and in the US (37%), but they are gradually recognising the need to address issues globally as well (17%).

The leading causes that consumers said they want companies to support include:

  1. Economic development (77%);
  2. Health and disease (77%);
  3. Hunger (76%);
  4. Education (75%);
  5. Access to clean water (74%);
  6. Disaster relief (73%);
  7. Environment (73%).

Consumers were equally likely to say that a company should consider supporting an issue that is important in the communities where it does business (91%), as well as one that is aligned with its business practices (91%).