Navigating Today's Hot-Button Issues With Consumer Insights

Consumer activism has grown dramatically during the course of the last 16 months, fueled by an infusion of pandemic, protest and politics.

Brands can no longer afford to simply sit out conversations about the most pressing concerns of society. Consumers expect organizations to take a stand on hot-button issues -- and, more importantly, to take action.

But in an intensely polarizing political and cultural climate, knowing when and how to proceed as a brand, both in terms of stance and nuanced messaging, is daunting.

And if brands are going to act authentically in the era of corporate social responsibility, their ability to understand and engage their own customers and prospects is vital.

Consider the topic of vaccine hesitancy. As the Delta variant surges, there’s still a lot of work to be done on messaging about the importance of vaccination. Major brands, from Budweiser to Krispy Kreme, are stepping up by offering incentives unique to their brands.



That said, every brand’s base of loyalists is different. To understand how best a given brand can put its media dollars to work around causes that matter, it’s essential to understand the motivations of an audience with a particular attitude, and how prevalent such attitudes are among a brand’s own customers.

We examined the differing personal values of vaccine-ready, vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-resistant Americans and found that vaccine-hesitant individuals hold others’ opinions of them in high regard, which means it could be effective to emphasize the social influence to be gained by getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, vaccine-resistant individuals tend to be devoutly religious, meaning that messaging around that fact that vaccines are just as much about protecting your neighbor as yourself could be effective.

Going deeper, we also wanted to examine the differences among brand audiences on the topic of vaccination, even within a specific sub industry. To do this, we took a snapshot of vaccine hesitancy among quick-serve restaurant (QSR) customers.

Panera, Starbucks and Pizza Hut customers top the list when it comes to vaccine readiness, meaning these customers are the most likely to have already received a COVID-19 vaccine or to be actively seeking vaccination. Meanwhile, Taco Bell customers remain most resistant to vaccination.

With knowledge of where a brand’s loyalists sit on the topic of vaccination, companies can fine-tune their campaign efforts on this sensitive subject. Ideally, this fine-tuning should also be informed by the personal values of a given brand’s loyalists.

For example, our analysis found that, while both Chick-Fil-A and McDonald’s customers are driven by the desire for stimulation and the ability to influence people, Chick-Fil-A customers also include a sense of duty among their most prominent personal values, while McDonald’s customers value their sense of authority more highly. Thus, Chick-Fil-A might want to speak more to the importance of vaccination in fulfilling our duties to community and country, while McDonald’s might want to emphasize the opportunity to lead others through a challenging and stressful time.

Important personal values data points can be layered with psychographic, cultural, and geographic data points to help brands further segment into hyper-targeted addressable audiences. Understanding these differences ensures brands’ ability to build strategies that engage effectively on hot-button topics -- everything from vaccination to racial justice to environmental responsibility. Only through an intimate, up-to-date understanding of a given audience can marketers hope to connect with consumers in a meaningful way around the topics that matter most in today’s society.

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