Companies need to get better at talking about CSR: Cone

The firm's latest study found that nearly two thirds of consumers will ignore brands' CSR messages if they're confusing.

BOSTON: More than half of consumers believe a company is guilty until proven innocent, giving brands another reason why they should proactively communicate their CSR initiatives, according to a study released on Wednesday by Cone Communications.

Fifty-two percent of consumers assume a company is not acting responsibly in terms of supporting environmental or social issues until they hear otherwise, according to the online survey, conducted with marketing analytics specialist Ebiquity.

"These alarming statistics mean that companies are already on the defense," said Cone EVP Alison DaSilva. "But this is also an opportunity for companies to make sure they are talking about what they are doing in a way consumers understand."

Nearly two-thirds of consumers (64%) will ignore a company’s CSR messages altogether if they use confusing terminology, according to the study. However, respondents’ confusion about corporate CSR messages dropped from 71% in 2011 to 65% in 2015, the firm found.

"How messages about CSR efforts are delivered is important," explained DaSilva. "A lot of companies want to throw statistics out, but often that is not accessible and approachable. Our research reaffirmed that consumers want to know what companies are doing in a way that is relevant to them, by using a blend of data and personal stories of impact."

To promote their efforts, companies should not rely solely on CSR reports. Only a quarter of consumers have read one in the past year, the study found.

Instead, brands should use product packaging, media, and advertising, the report advised. Nearly one in five (18%) of those surveyed said social media and mobile channels are effective platforms for communicating about CSR data.

Consumers prefer to digest CSR data and its effect in the form of brief written summaries (43%), interactive websites (34%), videos (31%), and infographics (25%).

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they only pay attention to corporate CSR efforts if an organization is going above and beyond what other companies are doing. About 90% are just as likely to boycott as purchase based on companies’ responsible practices.

The study also found that 61% of global consumers use social media to address or engage companies about CSR issues, with especially high numbers in China (89%), India (88%), and Brazil (84%).

Cone conducted the study in February and March to follow up the 2011 and 2013 global surveys on consumer attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors. The report reflects the sentiments of nearly 10,000 citizens in the US, Canada, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, China, India, and Japan.       

"Consumers are more empowered than ever when it comes to CSR," said DaSilva. "This is a great opportunity for the CSR space overall."

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