Fleishman survey: Consumers don't expect corporations to save the world

Instead, respondents want purpose to be related to issues that a company can control.

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

 ST. LOUIS: When it comes to purpose, consumers don’t expect corporations to solve the world's problems or even care about the same things that they do, according to a survey released by FleishmanHillard on Monday.

The study found that a clear majority of consumers expect corporations to act responsibly. Globally, 69% said that in order to be credible, companies must talk about their behavior and their impact on society, not just about what they sell. It also found that corporate behavior strongly shapes how consumers see a company. Respondents said only 47% of their perception of a company comes from its products and services, while 53% is a result of how it acts. 

Despite that, consumers said they don’t expect companies to share their concerns. Fleishman asked respondents to list issues that are important to them personally and issues they expect companies to address. The lists weren’t a perfect match. 

Consumers listed data security, data privacy, healthcare, domestic violence and affordable education as concerns. However, they said companies should address data security, data privacy, the environment, income and wage gaps and the minimum wage. 

"Consumers don’t expect companies to take on and fix everything," said Fleishman chief strategy officer Marjorie Benzkofer. "They want them to focus on the issues most within their control." 

For its Authenticity Gap study, Fleishman surveyed 7,364 engaged consumers in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. ages 18 to 65 between April 19 and May 22. The Omnicom Group agency said that 29% of the population can be defined as "engaged consumers."

The firm considers consumers to be "engaged" if they take three or more of the following actions: searching for product or service information; sharing information about products or services; sharing opinions or advice about products or services; giving a political candidate their opinion; writing a letter to an editor; signing a petition; blogging or posting about current events or a company’s products or services; or buying or selling shares.

The survey also found that consumers don’t want to hear about CEOs’ personal beliefs. Instead, they want business leaders to talk about issues that affect customers, their products and services and their employees. 

Benzkofer said the study suggests a blind approach to purpose by companies may be as bad as ignoring the concept entirely. 

"By no means does the study create a one-size-fits-all list," she added. "The data is very different from country to country, and it’s important that companies are looking across their landscape at what are the issues that are intrinsic to their business. In a very broad way, they have to make some decisions based on their values when it comes to what it is they’re going to be talking about."

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