February 14, 2011
The American consumer marketplace is a patchwork of niche audiences and target markets. Many brands have achieved success by identifying and reaching ever more focused pockets of consumers, as marketers hone in on favorable ethnic factors, sexual orientation, affluence, and education, among many other variables.
Where does faith fit in such a diverse marketplace? A new study by Barna Group explores whether Americans are supportive of businesses and brands that have an overtly Christian connection.
The research uncovered that those who would support Christian-branded enterprises significantly outnumber those who refrain from such brands because of that faith connection. At the same time, most American consumers simply reported being indifferent to faith-oriented businesses.
Managing by Christian Principles
The research looked at Christian-friendly consumers from two different angles. The first query asked the nationwide sample of U.S. consumers if they would be “more likely or less likely to buy a particular brand if they knew it was from a company that manages its business according to Christian principles, or wouldn’t it make a difference."
Overall, about two out of every five adult consumers (43%) said they would be receptive to this type of transaction (with 27% of adults strongly so). While most respondents claimed to be indifferent (51%), only 3% indicated that an overt connection to the Christian faith would make them less likely to do business with this type of vendor. In other words, a product or service managed according to Christian principles generated a positive-to-negative ratio of 14 to 1.
Embracing the Christian Faith
Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
Another survey question asked if people would be “more likely or less likely to buy a particular brand if they knew it was from a company that embraces and promotes the Christian faith, or wouldn’t it make a difference.”
In this respect, one-third of all U.S. adults (37%) said they would be more likely to purchase from this type of business (with 22% expressing the highest level of interest possible on the five-point scale). Again, only 3% said such a faith connection would make them less likely to support this type of organization and its products, resulting in a favorable-to-unfavorable ratio of 12 to 1. As was the case regarding organizations who manage their company according to Christian principles, most consumers (58%) were indifferent to whether or not a company actively embraces and promotes Christianity.
Who Supports Christian Business?
Consumers in the Midwest and South were most likely to express interest in both iterations of Christian business. Nearly six out of ten consumers in the South and half of buyers in the Midwest were more likely to support a business operated by Christian principles. In the West and Northeast, only one-third of customers expressed a preference for a Christian-operated business. Yet, even when asked about the most overt type of faith-based business, only small percentages of customers in the West (2%) and Northeast (3%) said they would be less likely to do business with such an enterprise.
Other demographic segments favoring businesses incorporating Christian elements were women, Boomers (ages 46 to 64), Elders (ages 65-plus), married adults, parents of children under age 18, political conservatives, and Republicans. College grads were slightly less interested than average in Christian companies, though income was not a defining factor for or against.
Young adults (ages 45 and younger, but especially those under the age of 25) were among the least interested in Christian-oriented brands.
On balance, only atheists and agnostics were more likely to oppose than welcome Christian-driven businesses (14% versus 5%). Even adherents of faith groups other than Christianity were more likely to favor Christian-themed brands than to reject them (19% were more interested and 6% were less interested). Most of these non-Christian groups concurred with other Americans in suggesting that the religious affiliation of the business would not sway them either way.
In terms of faith variables, active participants in Protestant churches were among the most attracted, with two out of three interested in products and services that promote Christianity; active participants in Catholic parishes were on par with the national average in terms of support for Christian-oriented companies.
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, directed the study and observed: “There appears to be a significant opportunity for enterprises that understand and value faith to express their faith consciousness through their business practices -- not simply as a marketing gimmick but as an authentic part of their content, their mix of products and services, their branding, and their corporate culture.
"At the same time, the limited interest in products and services from Christian-driven organizations among younger adults shows the challenges for those companies serving an exclusively Christian audience.
"Many contend that faith should be isolated from consumer decisions, and that the marketplace is deeply resistant to products and services delivered by companies who are overtly Christian. In fact, some executives and marketers are so focused on being inoffensive to anyone that many businesses have catered to critics by avoiding or stripping away any hint of faith-friendly practices or mission. However, the research shows that the consumer audience is divided between those who favor Christian companies and those who are simply indifferent. Very few Americans appear to be opposed to such faith-related businesses.
"Overall, faith affects many aspects of the economy, not only because of the sheer size of the Christian public, but also in terms of the breadth of sectors it touches. Also, faith and spirituality directly influence the popular, new emphasis among many businesses to focus on cause marketing, which is connecting an existing brand to a social or humanitarian cause. Yet, without a proper understanding of faith it is easy to underestimate that the causes consumers resonate with are significantly influenced by their religious profile."
About the Research
This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted in the OmniPoll℠ (part of the Barna Poll from the Barna Group). This study consisted of a random sample of 1,022 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, December 11 through December 19, 2010. The research included 150 interviews conducted among people using cell phones. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables.
Elders are those born before 1946; Boomers are the generation born from 1946 to 1964; Busters are individuals born between 1965 and 1983; and Mosaics are adults born 1984 or since.
Practicing Christians are adults who describe themselves as Christians, attend a worship service at least once a month, and say their religious faith is very important in their life.
Mainline denominations includes American Baptist Churches in the USA; the Episcopal Church; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Presbyterian Church (USA); the United Church of Christ; and the United Methodist Church.
Non-mainline denominations are Protestant churches other than those included in the mainline category described above.
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© Barna Group 2011.
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