New Cone Communications Research Confirms Millennials as America's Most Ardent CSR Supporters, But Marked Differences Revealed Among this Diverse Generation

Life-stage, gender and other key factors impact how different Millennial audiences will engage in CSR
Sep 23, 2015 10:15 AM ET
Press Release

September 23, 2015 /3BL Media/ - From buying products associated with a cause they care about to using their online networks to amplify social and environmental messages, Millennials are universally more engaged in corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, according to the newly released 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study. The study, the most comprehensive snapshot of how Millennials engage with CSR efforts in the U.S., reveals more than nine-in-10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause (91% vs. 85% U.S. average) and two-thirds use social media to engage around CSR (66% vs. 53% U.S. average).

The study examines the unique attitudes, perceptions and behaviors of different Millennial segments, including the young Millennial, mature Millennial, Millennial female, Millennial male, affluent Millennial and Millennial mom.

“This research reiterates the significant differences in how gender, life-stage and income level impact how Millennials want to be engaged in CSR efforts,” says Lisa Manley, executive vice president, CSR Strategy, Cone Communications. “With different priorities and drivers, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ message won’t inspire mass action within this generation. To appeal to a diverse Millennial audience, businesses need to understand the unique drivers and preferences of each segment to tailor their content, communications and channels for greatest impact.”

Millennials Willing to Take Action to Support CSR

Millennials are more fervent in their support of corporate social and environmental efforts and are, above and beyond, more likely to say they would participate in CSR initiatives if given the opportunity. This enthusiastic group is more willing to:

  • Purchase a product with a social or environmental benefit (87% vs. 83% U.S. average)
  • Tell friends and family about CSR efforts (82% vs. 72% U.S. average)
  • Voice opinions to a company about its CSR efforts (70% vs. 60% U.S. average)
  • Volunteer for a cause supported by a company they trust (74% vs. 56% U.S. average)

Yet, Millennials are also prepared to make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about – whether that’s paying more for a product (70% vs. 66% U.S. average), sharing products rather than buying (66% vs. 56% U.S. average) or taking a pay cut to work for a responsible company (62% vs. 56% U.S. average).

Millennials Use Social Media to Amplify for Impact

Millennials, as digital natives, believe social media can be their megaphone to make an impact on issues they care about. This group is far more likely to use social media to address or engage with companies around social and environmental issues (66% vs. 53% U.S. average). Although most Millennials turn to social channels to share and learn, there is also a portion that uses this medium as an avenue to participate in a direct dialogue with companies or contribute to CSR efforts:

  • 38% share positive information about companies and issues they care about (vs. 30% U.S. average)
  • 33% learn more about specific companies and issues (vs. 27% U.S. average)
  • 26% share negative information about companies and issues they care about (vs. 21% U.S. average)
  • 18% directly communicate with companies around issues (vs. 14% U.S. average)
  • 17% contribute directly to an effort led by a company (vs. 12% U.S. average)

“Millennials have come of age, into the shopping aisles and the workplace,” says Manley. “This hyper-connected generation is consuming media at an unprecedented pace. With social and environmental issues constantly in their social media feeds and inboxes, they simply can’t ignore how their decisions impact the world around them.”

Reaching Millennials with CSR Communications

Engaging Millennials in CSR efforts can trigger a positive advantage to company reputation and bottom-line. Millennials want companies to tell them how they are striving to improve the world around them and more than nine-in-10 (93%) feel better about companies upon learning of those efforts. However, companies must reach Millennials with the right content via the preferred mix of communications channels.

Traditional communications channels just won’t cut it with this wired audience. Although Millennials still look to the product package as a valuable resource for CSR information (19% vs. 18% U.S. average), they are more likely to utilize social media than the average American (18% vs. 12% U.S. average) and less likely to see advertising (11% vs. 17% U.S. average) as effective. And Millennials want to be entertained and engaged with CSR content – this group prioritizes videos (36% vs. 29% U.S. average), infographics (26% vs. 16% U.S. average) and games (15% vs. 8% U.S. average) when learning about company CSR commitments.

“The shift from traditional advertising to social media will be game-changing moving forward as companies try to break through to this always-on audience,” says Whitney Dailey, senior supervisor, CSR Planning and Insights, Cone Communications. “In a world where CSR content and messages must compete for attention against cat memes and trending hashtags, it’s more important than ever before to bring CSR information to life through compelling content, visual storytelling and interactive experiences.”

Engaging Millennials, Not a “One-Size-Fits-All” Solution

Marketers may be too quick to bucket all Millennials under the same communications and engagement strategies, but the research reveals marked nuances among age groups, gender, income and life stage.  It’s important to hyper-target specific Millennial segments with the preferred type of CSR content, in the most effective communications channel with the desired call-to-action.

Young Millennial (18-24): This enthusiastic group is unbridled in their support of CSR efforts from what they purchase to where they volunteer. This group is the most likely to factor in a company’s CSR commitments when deciding where to work and is even willing to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company:

  • Most likely to consider CSR when deciding where to work (82% vs. 75% mature Millennial)
  • Most willing population to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company (66% vs. 61% mature Millennial)
  • Most likely to use social media to engage around CSR efforts (73% vs. 64% mature Millennial)

Mature Millennial (25-34): Mature Millennials represent another group with enthusiastic support of CSR initiatives, but engagement drops when it comes to reported actions. One likely cause – this group questions their ability to make an impact:

  • Gap between intent and action: 86% would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit, if given the opportunity (vs. 88% young Millennial); 57% have bought a product in the past 12 months (vs. 65% young Millennial)
  • Less likely to believe they can make a significant impact through purchases (25% vs. 36% young Millennial)
  • Preferred communications channels: On-pack (19%), social media (17%), company website (13%), media (12%) and advertising (11%)

Female Millennial: CSR is a core factor in the shopping aisle for this group, as Millennial women see their buying power as the strongest way to show support for companies addressing issues they care about. But to win the hearts and wallets of female Millennials, they need to see results:

  • Two-thirds (64%) of Millennial females have bought a product associated with a cause in the past 12 months (vs. 54% Millennial male)
  • Among the most likely to seek out responsible products whenever possible (86% vs. 76% Millennial male)
  • Among the most likely to hold companies accountable for producing results (86% vs. 77% Millennial male)

Male Millennial: Millennial males, while still proponents of CSR efforts, are less enthusiastic than their female counterparts. For this audience, CSR is more of a reputation protector than a purchase driver:

  • Most likely to say they won’t pay attention to a company’s CSR efforts until something goes wrong (64% vs. 53% Millennial female)
  • 83% would purchase a product with a social or environmental benefit, if given the opportunity (vs. 90% Millennial female)
  • Prioritize data and numbers related to impact (30% vs. 18% Millennial female) over stories

Affluent Millennial ($100,000+ HH income): One of the more supportive segments of CSR efforts, this group is willing to put dollars, donations or “do-good” actions in front of the issues they care about. Affluent Millennials are dedicated to doing the right thing whether or not they see the results of such actions:

  • Most likely to say they’d switch brands to one that supports a good cause (95% vs. 85% U.S. average)
  • Most likely to follow donation intent with action, 82% of affluent Millennials said they’d donate to a charity and 81% have donated in the past 12 months
  • Most willing group to pay more (79% vs. 66% U.S. average) or consume less (84% vs. 78% U.S. average)

Millennial Mom: Millennial moms see CSR as part and parcel with their everyday life decisions – from the products they buy to the companies they support in their local communities. They stand ready to champion companies that align with their values through purchase and sharing information with their networks:

  • Most likely to assume companies are being responsible as possible until they hear otherwise (54% vs. 49% U.S. average)
  • Most likely to consider CSR in everyday decisions such as which companies do business in their community (89% vs. 84% U.S. average), what they buy and where they shop (87% vs. 80% U.S. average) and which products and services they recommend to others (88% vs. 78% U.S. average)
  • Most likely to say they would voice their opinions on company CSR efforts through comments on company websites, blogs or reviews (78% vs. 60% U.S. average)

About the Research

The 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study presents the findings of an online survey conducted February 18 – March 6, 2015 by Ebiquity among a demographically representative random sample of 1,003 adults, comprising 500 men and 503 women, ages 18-34. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is ± 3% at a 95% level of confidence.

About Cone Communications

Cone Communications ( is a public relations and marketing agency known for igniting brands with high-impact strategies and programs based in deep insights, unique subject matter expertise and innovation. Focusing on key areas such as corporate social responsibility, cause marketing, nonprofit marketing, corporate communications and brand marketing – the agency is positioned to help clients achieve both business and societal outcomes. Cone Communications is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc.

About the DAS Group of Companies

The DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC) (, is a global group of marketing services companies. DAS includes over 200 companies in the following marketing disciplines: specialty, PR, healthcare, CRM, events, promotional marketing, branding and research. Operating through a combination of networks and regional organizations, DAS serves international, regional, national and local clients through more than 700 offices in 71 countries.