Millennials want business to help solve world’s problems: MSLGroup

Brands have to go beyond ‘purpose’ and take action

Rebecca Harris October 09, 2014

Businesses looking to engage with millennials have a tall order: make the world a better place.

A new global survey of 8,000 millennials by global PR firm MSLGroup found that 83% of millennials strongly believe business should be more active in solving the world’s biggest problems. The respondents are pinning their hopes on business, since 73% strongly believe governments cannot solve the world’s most pressing social issues alone.

“Despite the fact that trust in business is still low, millennials see business’s involvement in solving some of the world’s greatest social and environmental issues as critical,” said Scott Beaudoin, global director of MSLGroup’s corporate and brand citizenship practice. “They understand that government has failed them and that government can’t do it alone… so they really see business as their only hope.”

The study, called “The Future of Business Citizenship,” also found that 51% of millennials want to personally get involved in making the world a better place, and 69% want companies and employers to make it easier for them to do their part, such as donating a portion of sales to causes they care about, giving them time off to volunteer and providing activities they can participate in.

The study also found that there’s a shifting millennial mindset: they believe what companies actually do is more meaningful than why they do it. The report states that this is an evolution from the past when it was enough for businesses to have a ‘purpose’ at their core. Today, millennials expect companies to be active citizens.

For example, said Beaudoin, “if your purpose is to empower women in the world because it makes sense for your company, millennials want to know: are you providing micro-financing loans [to women]? If you’re a clothing retailer that makes clothing in factories in other parts of the world, are you treating [the workers] fairly, empowering them and giving them the education they need?”

From a communications standpoint, the lesson for brands is that communication can’t stop at purpose—it has to also show action, said Beaudoin. “Without it, you don’t have the social heartbeat of your message and narrative.”

Millennials actually want companies to communicate how they’re making an impact. The survey found that 79% of millennials wish it were easier to know which companies were doing good in the world.

“You don’t have to have totally figured out the sustainable business practices piece because everyone understands that takes time,” said Beaudoin. “But you at least have to have a solid narrative around that and what your journey is and where you are.”

Beaudoin also thinks businesses should collaborate with millennials when developing their sustainability and citizenship practices. “For so many years, it was done in the boardroom… but there is a lot of innovation and really brilliant thinking that can come out of a co-creation approach,” he said. “And millennials love that. They want to engage and I think that is certainly something that business should be thinking about.”

The survey was conducted this past spring in 17 countries, including Canada, U.S., U.K., China, Japan and India.