Poll shows firms must tout CSR to retain consumers

BOSTON: US businesses need to talk more to consumers about corporate social responsibility or they risk losing customers, according to a new corporate citizenship survey done by strategic marketing firm Cone.

BOSTON: US businesses need to talk more to consumers about corporate social responsibility or they risk losing customers, according to a new corporate citizenship survey done by strategic marketing firm Cone.

Indeed, Americans consider matters of good corporate citizenship when making buying decision more today than anytime in recent history, the survey suggests.

Eighty-six percent of respondents agreed with the statement: "I'm very/somewhat likely to switch from one brand to another that is about the same in price and quality if the other brand is associated with a cause."

Eighty-five percent of respondents said a company's commitment to social issues is important when they consider which companies they want to see doing business in their local communities.

In addition, 81% said social commitment is important when they consider where to work, and 74% said it is important in deciding which products they recommend to others.

Respondents generally want companies to do cause-based marketing.

When asked, "Is it acceptable for companies to involve a cause or issue in their marketing?" 72% said yes, compared with 70% in a 2001 study and 66% in 1993, the first year Cone did such a survey.

When asked to name a socially involved firm, 12% said Wal-Mart, followed by about 7% who said McDonald's.

While Wal-Mart is regularly the subject of negative press coverage, it has been advertising a great deal about its social involvement in local communities, and those messages apparently are connecting with consumers, said Carol Cone, agency CEO.

McDonald's publicizes its involvement with Ronald McDonald House, a reason it consistently has been named as an involved corporate citizen in surveys, she added.

"People want companies to get involved, but they want them to get involved in a credible way, and they want to hear about it," Cone said.

When asked to name a firm they considered a strong corporate citizen, 80% of respondents were able to do so, compared with only 49% in 2001 and 26% in 1993, Cone said.

Asked whom they consider credible sources of information on company social responsibility efforts, 59% said family and friends, 38% said government agencies, 37% said news organizations, and only 23% said the company itself.

This answer means companies must use grassroots PR and nonprofit groups with which they work to help deliver their social responsibility messages, Cone said.

The study polled 1,033 adults by phone October 22 to 25 and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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