The findings of Porter Novelli’s sixth annual U.S. consumer sentiment study, The Purpose Priorities Report: How Brands Can Communicate with Confidence in an Era of Powerful Pushback can be distilled into a single, striking conclusion: brands need to stop simply talking about Purpose, and instead, start taking purposeful action.

The demand for action is complemented by increased worry about the environment, with 61% of respondents saying they are more concerned about global climate change after the extreme heat waves in the summer of 2023.

Beyond a range of compelling consumer insights, the report also features a listing of organizations that have distinguished themselves in the areas of Purpose and Reputation in 2023.

Purpose, Backed by Action

Consumers and stakeholders are increasingly scrutinizing companies’ specific actions, while they have slightly downgraded the concept of Purpose as an overall desired characteristic in this year’s survey. This indicates that consumers have become more sophisticated, and seek purposeful actions, not words, from brands.

Decoding Consumers’ Demands

Additional insights revealed by the study include the expectation that brands actively participate in supporting the environment, consumers’ willingness to punish brands that fail to deliver on their promises, and the belief that companies need to operationalize their DEI values.

Consumers Want Brands to Help Fix the Planet

Against the backdrop of a world literally on fire, stakeholders want brands to be active participants in solutions to environmental challenges.

• 76% of respondents believe companies should have programs that address environmental sustainability.

• 32% of respondents will start or increase purchasing from companies that share a point of view on environmental sustainability that is aligned with their own views.

Consumer Power to Punish

Consumers are holding brands accountable and will disengage with companies that fail to keep their promises.

• 70% of respondents believe companies should talk about how they address social and environmental issues continuously throughout the year rather than during occasional moments in time.

• 47% of respondents will stop or reduce purchasing from companies that go back on their promises to address social or environmental issues.

Consumers Want Companies to Operationalize Their DEI Beliefs 

When it comes to DEI, consumers are raising the stakes: they are shifting from generic expectations to more specific operational expectations.

• 76% of respondents believe a company’s leaders should reflect the diversity of the communities where they do business.

• 69% of correspondents believe companies should change the way they operate to address diversity and inclusion.

Conroy Boxhill, President of Porter Novelli U.S., commented: “In today’s stakeholder-first market, it’s no longer enough for a brand to assert its beliefs. They must embody them. This report demonstrates that it’s not just the right thing to do, but also a key way to do business better.”

This Year’s Purpose and Reputation Winners

The 2023 Purpose Priorities Report additionally features purpose and reputation leaders across a range of key industries. Six companies distinguished themselves among consumers by appearing on both lists. These include Patagonia, REI, Wegmans Food Markets, Nike, LG, and John Deere. View the complete lists in the report.

Sandy Skees, Purpose & Impact lead Porter Novelli, added: “Brands are operating within growing global complexity and grappling with the reality of shared value and shared risk. The veneer of separateness, that any business can succeed in isolation from responsibility for social systems or environmental resources, is eroding. Whether a brand uses the word ‘Purpose’ to describe the greater good they are creating in the world, consumers know how to hold companies accountable.”

About the Study

The 2023 Purpose Priorities Report presents the findings of a survey designed and executed in August 2023 among an online sample of 7,000 American adults, ages 18+. The study was fielded by Dynata. Respondents were asked to rate up to six companies they are familiar with and able to evaluate (positively or negatively), with each company rated by an average of 150 respondents.

Click here to download the report.