With 38% of Americans saying that they want companies to be socially responsible, it’s proof that brand values matter for US consumers. That’s why it’s more important than ever to understand what social issues matter, why they matter, and what people want brands to do about it.
Digging into the data for actionable insights is how brands zero in on customers’ values and secure deeper connections. So it makes sense that 18% of Americans say that the brands they buy represent their values and make them feel like they have a connection/relationship. Gen Z and millennials are 13% and 20% more likely to say that than the average American.
For brands that want to win with consumers, it’s all about listening and learning before taking action.
Want to know which social issues Americans care about most in 2023? Here’s a crash course in how to make sure your marketing strategy resonates with your target audience’s values.
The top 5 social issues US consumers care about
1. Mental health
2. Diversity, equity, and inclusion
4. Representation for the disabled community
5. Economic conditions
1. Mental Health
Consumer’s focus on mental health has increased following the pandemic. Since 2019, 31% of Americans report doing more activities to improve their mental health – the most popular activity that Americans are doing more often.
Now, mental health awareness is higher than ever before with 89% of Americans saying that taking care of the mind is important.
Across the United States and the world public figures have spoken out about their struggles with mental health. This has made conversations more frequent, and 52% of Americans say that improving access to mental help/health care is important to them. While more resources are being provided to those who are struggling, 77% of Americans want to see more of a focus on mental health in healthcare.
Although pandemic-related concerns have dropped, the cost of living crisis may be exacerbating what was already a difficult economic time for many. When asked what factors negatively impact mental health, the financial situation ranks second just behind sleeping problems with 27% of Americans saying this.
Despite tough times, 75% of Americans rate their current mental health as good or very good. So, it’s not all bad news on the mental health front, and with more people aware than ever before, taking action to solve issues is more common.
Mental health is a top concern among younger generations. Access to mental health help/care is a notable concern among Gen Z and Millennials, with 10% and 11% respectively considering it the most important social issue. This reflects the growing awareness and advocacy for mental health in younger generations, who are prioritizing mental wellbeing and pushing for greater access to mental health services.
Brands can stay relevant using insights to drive marketing campaigns focused on mental health is a surefire way to reach consumers. In recent years, many brands have released mental health campaigns that made a difference, raised awareness, and provided more resources to Americans who need help in difficult situations.
A great example from the US is the Cause My Cleats campaign which destigmatizes issues around mental health using famous athletes. With 91% of NFL fans saying that looking after mental health is somewhat or very important, getting the conversation going is crucial.
2. Diversity, equity, and inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is a crucial issue for many Americans, but there’s a lot of social justice fatigue among consumers. This is important to note when brands are considering how they can approach their communication about social issues.
The most popular reasons that Americans who say DE&I is important are providing fair and equal opportunities (81%), to be more accepting of people (64%), and to better understand each other (54%). Fair opportunities have a wide range of meanings depending on the industry, but for many this means having better representation of diverse groups in all parts of business and society at large.
70% of Americans say that the representation of diverse groups in ads is improving. That’s a positive sign that DE&I-focused ad campaigns have resonated with consumers.
There are some significant differences between industries.
When Americans are asked what industries are doing well when it comes to DE&I, there are lots of different answers. The beauty industry’s best metric for DE&I is offering inclusive product ranges (40%). Fenty Beauty has found success due to increased makeup options for people of all skin tones, allowing beauty products to be available to more consumers.
Sando Saputo, the brand’s Chief Marketing Officer, had this to say about their DE&I success: “Our approach to inclusion marketing has always been about ‘showing, not telling.” Never once did we use the word “inclusive” in our messaging.”
By showing consumers what a brand stands for, the message can stick a lot better than simply telling consumers that you’re an inclusive brand.
Other industries have also had DE&I campaigns but these campaigns haven’t had the same impact on consumers. Sports companies have a heavy focus on DE&I in recent years with campaigns such as Until We All Win from Nike. However, there’s a pretty large disconnect between the campaigns and what consumers think about the industry.
Despite the campaigns, 31% of consumers say that they don’t know/have no opinion when asked what the sports industry is doing to improve DE&I. Brands should look to the sectors that are doing well when it comes to DE&I messaging to see how they can improve their own.
DE&I can mean different things to different people
It’s important to look at what audiences want from brand initiatives. For example, Gen Z are 62% more likely than the average American to want brands to offer gender-neutral product ranges. This is the most distinctive DE&I product desire across all generations.
Understanding the audience is important here. Gen Z are 38% more likely to be interested in fashion than the average consumer fashion brands that get it can adjust their shows to meet these needs. Last year, London Fashion Week was gender neutral for the first time, showing how brands are changing to keep up with Gen Z’s growing interest in gender-neutral fashion.
In the workplace, DE&I is also super important. 73% of employed Americans say that DE&I in the workplace is important to them, but only 13% say that DE&I initiatives have had a large impact on the workplace. Like other DE&I efforts, it’s been difficult to gauge the impact.
In the past 6 months, 40% of Americans who say DE&I is important have educated themselves as a way to support DE&I. This education aspect is super important, and is another avenue that brands can take when thinking about how to improve their DE&I messaging. Brands have a great opportunity to take action and provide more resources that make DE&I more accessible. This is especially important for sectors where DE&I messaging has not stuck with consumers.
When it comes to sustainability, price is a very important factor in products, especially recently with rising inflation, but it certainly isn’t everything.
78% of Americans say that sustainability is important, but tradeoffs between expensive sustainable products and cheaper, less environmentally-friendly ones make consumers’ choice difficult. Millennials are 14% more likely to say that sustainability is very important than the average American, and are 30% more likely to be willing to pay for more sustainable products.
When brands can find their audience of loyal customers they don’t have to be as concerned with those customers leaving during an economic downturn. While some consumers will leave for cheaper products, having a dedicated base of consumers who care about the environmental aspect of the product can lead to deeper and longer-lasting relationships.
Brands have been increasingly invested in sustainability social issues and supporting sustainable causes. Sustainability pledges and creating new lines of sustainable and environmentally friendly products have all become very common in recent years. That shows brands have been listening to the 59% of Americans that believe brands should do more to make their products sustainable, and 36% of Americans want companies to reduce their environmental impact.
Concern for the environment manifests itself in different ways.
40% of Americans say they are concerned about climate change, but Gen Z (44%) and baby boomers (45%) are the generations most concerned. Millennials aren’t as concerned about climate change, even though they’re most likely to take action and desire action from companies. Baby boomers don’t necessarily expect action from companies on sustainability issues, instead saying that consumers bear responsibility, but younger Americans say that corporations and governments have the most responsibility to act sustainably.
Americans are very invested in improving their sustainability actions and want to do more. 64% of consumers say that corporations have the most responsibility to act sustainability, higher than even the government or consumers. It isn’t easy to balance price and sustainability, but if brands can successfully navigate those challenges, they’ll win over more consumers.
4. Representation for the disabled community
There has been a growing recognition of the importance of representation for individuals with disabilities. This is especially true in the workplace and for products available to disabled consumers. Americans are recognizing the need for better representation, and some brands have taken notice.
50% of US consumers say disabled Americans need more representation than any other group, and 47% of Americans say that disability rights are an important issue to them. In particular, Americans think that disabled Americans need better representation in the workplace (50%), and in products (41%).
Some brands have brought disabled groups to the forefront of marketing campaigns and have created new inclusive product lines. A great example of this is the L’Oreal product line that has offered more accessible products to disabled makeup users, meeting the demand for the 49% of Americans who believe that portraying diverse groups will improve ads.
By expanding product lines and who they portray in advertisements, brands can resonate with young consumers looking to support inclusive companies. Like who, you ask? Gen Z. They’re 20% more likely than the average American to support better portrayal of these groups in ads.
5. Economic conditions
One issue that has been gaining increasing attention is poverty. As such, it’s crucial for brands to consider the impact of poverty on their audiences and address this pressing issue in their marketing initiatives.
With the “bad vibes” economy in full swing, it makes sense that 17% of Americans say poverty is the most important social issue. This highlights the widespread recognition of economic issues in the US and the need to address poverty in America, regardless of age or background.
There’s also a big tie between poverty and mental health.
55% of Americans say that poverty/financial struggle is a main contributor to poor mental health in society.
Despite poverty being a top social issue for Americans, companies are much less likely to have poverty-focused initiatives especially compared to how frequently companies focus on climate initiatives. It isn’t as easy for brands to address this issue because of the sensitive nature of poverty, but some companies have created initiatives. Unilever is one example of a company that is promoting poverty prevention and alleviation work.
Why brands should care
The key for brands to take action on all of these relies on connecting with consumers and showing what their brand is about. A deeper understanding of the brand’s audience and social issues that matter to them allows initiatives to be more successful and impactful.
More than ever, consumers want less talk from brands and want to see results.
Taking action isn’t easy, especially as economic conditions are cutting budgets in many industries. The brands that walk the walk during tough economic times will be the ones that come out on top when the good times return.