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For the past two decades Cone Communications has been polling a demographically representative sample of 1,000 Americans to determine their attitudes and behaviors around corporate social responsibility (CSR). Which makes the 2017 edition of the Cone Communications CSR Study especially informative, as it includes benchmark data dating back to 1993.
To cut to the chase: the world has changed. The data shows that today’s consumers expect companies to not just be “good” but to actually take a stand on social injustices. We encourage you to take a look at the Study; the write-up is very accessible and there is a lot there to learn from. For a preview, click on that infographic over on the right>>>. (Also, we named Carol Cone and Cone Communications our Measurement Mavens of the Month.)
Here are six quick takeaways from the Study:
1. CSR is now a necessity, not a “nice to have.”
Today’s consumers vote with their pocketbooks. They will readily pay a bit more for a company that they believe has good values as well as good practices. 89% would switch to a brand that is associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality—up from 66% in 1993. 87% said they’d be more likely to trust a company that supports a social or environment issue, and 88% would be more loyal.
The takeaway: Not only does your company have to “do” CSR (see point #5, below), but it has to be seen and known for doing it. So start checking to see what your stakeholders think about yours. And if you feel discouraged by the prospect of measuring the ROI of your CSR, consider the significant perils of not measuring it—as illustrated, for instance, by Uber and Wells Fargo. (Need some help? Read our article “How to Get Started Measuring CSR.”)
2. Measure more than just your environmental footprint.
It’s easy to assume that CSR is mostly about the environment. But the Cone CSR Study found that consumers have a range of concerns about today’s society, starting with what kind of employer you are. See the chart below.
According to the Cone CSR Study, consumers today don’t just look at your charitable contributions and sustainable supply chain. They want to know what you stand for and if they agree with that stand. 87% said they’d purchase a product because that company advocated for an issue they cared about. 76% would refuse to purchase if they found a company that supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.
The takeaway: Your CSR metrics should include a variety of CSR-related concerns as well as the environment, including being a good employer, investing in causes, and standing up for social justice.
3. Authenticity counts—so make sure your business practices align with your values.
The Cone CSR Study demonstrates that consumers today express their personal values in their purchase decisions as much as in their charitable giving. Consumers will stop purchasing from a company if they see it fail to “walk its talk” on the issues they advocate for: 88% said they would boycott a company that demonstrated irresponsible business practices. Even scarier, nearly two out of three (65%) will actually do research to ensure you’re being authentic.
The takeaway: Take a stand, let the world know about it, back up your words with actions, and then check to make sure that your stakeholders get it. Monitor your CSR to insure that your actions are in sync with your public perception.
4. The most popular causes are those that are in the headlines.
Your stakeholders are influenced by current events. So the causes that will influence their behavior—and which they expect to influence yours—vary depending on what is center stage in popular news and culture.
The takeaway: From time to time—and especially if you’re just starting to consider a CSR program—survey your audience or stakeholders to determine what is important to them. Be prepared to adjust your CSR initiatives accordingly.
5. Take a big picture view of CSR, and make sure your stakeholders know it.
CSR has gone way beyond tacking on some environmental business practices, crowing about charitable giving, or rolling out a flashy Super Bowl ad about your cause de jour. Consumers and your stakeholders are now too sophisticated to put much credence in such ad hoc tactics. To prove authenticity and be credible in the minds of today’s consumers, companies need to build CSR into their culture, and send a consistent responsibility message in everything they do and say.
The takeaway: Monitor your stakeholders for their opinions of both your projects and your culture. Check to be sure they understand your CSR efforts are a genuine expression of values, rather than a band-aid or a mask.
6. Don’t just talk about your CSR efforts. Show your results and keep improving.
Consumers expect companies to report on their CSR activities. But just making an announcement that you’ve done something doesn’t have much impact, and might imply that you’re not all that excited about what you’ve accomplished. 79% of respondents in the Cone research said that they expect businesses to continuously improve their CSR efforts. Communicating your CSR to your stakeholders is a lot like communicating your measurement results to your boss: a trend is way, way better than a snapshot.
The takeaway: Invest in long term CSR programs (see also #5, above). Bolster your CSR message and image by analyzing your progress over time. Talk about the results that you’ve achieved and the good that you’ve accomplished. Use your measurement to make sure that your stakeholders understand your investment. ∞