Despite a marketplace saturated with cause-related programs and messages, the US’s consumer demand for corporate support of social and environmental issues remains strong, according to the 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study from Cone Communications.

The study found that 54 percent of Americans bought a product associated with a cause over the last 12 months, increasing 170 percent since 1993 and that 89 percent say they are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality, jumping nearly 35 percent over the past 20 years. In addition, 91 percent want even more of the products and services they use to support causes and 88 percent want to hear how companies are supporting social and environmental issues.

“In the midst of the ribbonization of America—where it’s near-impossible to walk down a store aisle without spotting a cause—consumers want to see even more brands engage in social and environmental issues,” says Alison DaSilva, executive vice president, research and Insights, at Cone. “Through 20 years of research, Americans’ inclinations to shop for good has ebbed and flowed, alongside economic upheaval, political unrest and acts of terrorism. But one thing remains clear: consumer demand for cause is stronger than ever, solidifying it as a savvy business strategy.”

Although the number of pressing social issues is vast, Americans are clear in the areas they most want companies to focus. Economic development is the number one priority for the majority of consumers (44 percent), and they want to feel the impact of corporate efforts close to home in their local communities (43 percent).

But the majority of Americans are uncertain of the extent to which corporate and individual efforts result in meaningful change. Despite a plethora of cause initiatives, fewer than one-in-five consumers (16 percent) believes companies have made significant positive impact on social or environmental issues, and just 25 percent believes their own purchases substantially influence those issues.

“US consumers are clamoring for proof of progress,” says Craig Bida, executive vice president, social impact, at Cone. “They need verification that the efforts of companies, as well as their own personal participation in cause marketing, are affecting quantifiable social impact. The onus is on companies to go beyond mission statements to provide personally relevant and tangible evidence that collectively, businesses and consumers are moving the needle.”

Traditional channels of on-product messaging (21 percent), media (16 percent) and advertising (16 percent) still hold tremendous value as Americans indicate they are among the most effective ways to reach them with cause-related information. However, social media is opening new doors in the world of social impact, giving consumers near-immediate access to information about companies, the issues they support and ways to get involved.

More than half (51 percent) of Americans report using social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues (55 percent African Americans; 62 percent Hispanics; 64 percent Millennials). And 27 percent are doing so to champion corporate efforts and initiatives (33 percent African Americans; 31 percent Hispanics; 34 percent Millennials), while 20 percent acknowledges using social channels to share negative information about companies and issues (19 percent African Americans; 23 percent Hispanics; 26 percent Millennials).