SINGAPORE — After a year of Covid, Asian consumers are putting a premium on companies’ ESG efforts, with shoppers roughly eight times more likely to buy from brands they believe have a strong purpose compared to those that don’t, according to new research from Zeno.

The agency’s APAC Strength of Purpose study, which surveyed 5,000 adults across the region (Australia, China, India, Malaysia, and Singapore), found that for 77% of respondents, brand purpose has become more important over the last 12 months. That number was highest in India (88%), China (83%) and Malaysia (80%).

Consumers are 7.9 times more likely to buy a brand based on purpose than they were a year ago, which is four times higher than it was last year. They are 9.1 times more likely to trust the brand, up from 4.1 times more likely before the pandemic; 9.8 times more likely to recommend the brand to friends and family, up from 4.5 times; and 6.6 times more likely to protect that brand in the event of a misstep or public criticism, up from six times more likely a year ago.

Survey respondents ranked the most important traits of a purposeful brand: treating all employees well, regardless of rank or level (55%); having ethical business practices (55%); and having sustainable business practices (51%).

However, the study also found that, when it comes to purpose, there is a growing gap between consumer expectations and brands’ ability to deliver. While 96% of respondents said brand purpose is important, only 45% believe that most brands have a strong commitment to ESG.

And Asian consumers will play hardball with brands with opposing purpose, values, or behaviors. The research found 28% of respondents would stop buying from such a brand; 30% would start buying from a competitor, or brand that better aligns with their stances; and 27% would discourage others from buying or supporting brands they’re at odds with.

“A perennial challenge for marketers has been to prove that brand or corporate purpose has a tangible, commercial benefit. This research shows conclusively that purpose pays off, and also reveals how,” said Paul Mottram, Zeno’s Asia-Pacific regional president. 

“The prioritization by consumers of sustainable and ethical business practices reaffirms that environment, social and governance efforts are worthwhile: not only because shareholders demand it, but also because when communicated effectively, consumers will reward these initiatives with incremental sales, recommendations and loyalty,” he said.

Whether a brand has purpose can impact other parts of business too. 85% of respondents said they consider a company’s purpose in making career decisions, with that number rising to 90% of Gen Z and Millennials. 83% said they consider brand purpose before investing in it.

Purpose helps marketers as well, as the survey found it drives engagement. 81% of consumers consider it when deciding whether to engage with a brand on social media