Faced with two products of similar price and quality, the vast majority
of consumers say they would buy the one made by a company associated
with a ‘good cause’. Business in the Community, which commissioned this
latest research, rightly concludes that it proves a strong commercial
case for expending more energy on cause related marketing.
But it is not the whole story. For the survey also shows that consumers
feel this way regardless of the specific cause being addressed, and that
most are hard pushed to name a socially responsible company. It is
likely then that this is simply a case of consumers seeking some brand
differentiation as the products they are offered become closer in
function, quality and cost.
Although association with a good cause is one way of achieving this
differentiation in the minds of consumers, the overriding aim for
companies must be to overlay strong corporate brand values on top of
their product brands. These values include not only social
responsibility, but also its record on corporate governance, employment
and investment practice, its environmental record, as well as more
intangible qualities like style, excitement, or fun.
Such a strategy can pay off handsomely. For example, research by NOP and
PR Week in 1994 showed that consumers were more likely to buy one of
Virgin’s increasingly diverse range of products simply because they
approved of the corporate brand values.
The holy grail of public relations is to prove a direct causal link
between corporate image - and the public relations advice guiding it -
and business performance. That is still a distant horizon in terms of
the practicalities of PR evaluation systems. But research like this adds
strength to the arm of every corporate affairs director and PR
consultant in the land.