(3BL Media / theCSRfeed) Boston, MA - October 4, 2011 - Ten thousand consumers in major countries around the globe are demanding a higher level of responsibility by companies in dealing with societal issues, and consumers report they are already using their own spending and loyalty to press these demands.
This global consumer movement surfaces in the 2011 Cone/Echo Global CR Opportunity Study, a 10-country survey released today by Cone Communications and Echo Research. The survey was fielded in countries comprising approximately half the world’s population, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, China, India and Japan. The research is supplemented with insights from some of the world’s foremost thought leaders on corporate responsibility.
Key global findings indicate:
81% of consumers say companies have a responsibility to address key social and environmental issues beyond their local communities;
93% of consumers say companies must go beyond legal compliance to operate responsibly; and,
94% of consumers say companies must analyze and evolve their business practices to make their impact as positive as possible.
“We expected consumer interest in corporate responsibility in these markets, but we got a groundswell,” says Mike Lawrence, executive vice president and chief reputation officer of Cone Communications. “They are demanding companies look at the societal impact they are having and evolve the way they operate.”
“There were consistently high expectations for responsible business across the countries surveyed,” says Dan Soulas, managing director of Echo Research. “However, the findings and expert insights also showed important nuances by country. This clearly points to one conclusion: companies should realize their corporate responsibility strategies need to be customized based on geography. In practice, this means having a broad vision to guide the core principles of engagement, but adapting them at the market level, which requires an in-depth understanding of what will motivate consumers in that locale.”
Consumers Will Reward…
Not only do consumers expect businesses to put their resources to work for change, but they want to participate.Ninety-four percent of consumers are likely to switch brands to one that supports a cause if both brands are similar in price and quality. And, if given the opportunity:
94% would buy a product that has an environmental benefit; 76% have already purchased an environmental product in the past 12 months.
93% would buy a product associated with a cause; 65% have already purchased a cause-related product in the past 12 months.
Consumers may be so apt to engage with corporate responsibility and cause-related efforts because they are seeing the impact. Ninety-three percent believe companies have made at least some positive impact on the world. A quarter say the impact has been significant.
Corporate efforts are motivating consumers, too. Nearly three-in-five consumers (59%) credit companies with helping to educate them on important issues, and a similar number (56%) say they have been inspired to support a new issue.
“These high numbers suggest the interpretation of ‘cause’ is broad and infused in diverse cultures in many ways,” says Alison DaSilva, executive vice president, Cone Communications. “Although cause marketing in the traditional sense may not be prevalent in some of these countries, consumers may believe they are supporting a cause when buying products sourced locally or from a company with a charitable giving halo.”
…But They Will Also Punish
Today’s engaged consumers are willing to reward, but just as willing to investigate and punish. More than a third (36%) have researched a company’s business practices or support of issues, and 32 percent have given their feedback about a company’s responsibility efforts directly to the company. Most telling is the consumer willingness to boycott. Ninety-three percent would boycott a company for irresponsibility, and more than half say they already have (56%).
“Welcome to a new wired world of empowered consumers,” says Lawrence. “They have access to research and networking tools once reserved for major journalists. In this world, the only way for companies to build reputation and manage risk is through corporate responsibility, engagement and transparency.”
Focus on Issues Material to Business
Consumers believe it is important for companies to address a full range of social and environmental issues, including:
Economic development – 96%
Environment – 96%
Water – 95%
Human rights – 94%
Education – 90%
Health and disease – 90%
Poverty and hunger – 87%
Yet, if they must choose just one, the clear leader is economic development. Thirty-four percent of the consumers surveyed say this is the most important issue for companies to address. Combined with the environment (21%), these issues represent the attention of more than half of the 10,000 respondents. Human rights comes in a more distant third (12%).
“Supporting all issues is expected of any responsible company today – but it’s not necessarily differentiating. Consumers are looking for a company to stand for something,” says DaSilva. “Companies who frame their efforts within the larger macro issue of economic development will be most compelling and relevant to consumers. Many issues, from poverty, to women’s rights, to education, may be approached in a way that stimulates people, communities and economies.”
Citizens globally may agree on what companies should address, but they are much more divided when it comes to where. Thirty-six percent of consumers believe companies should prioritize support of issues that affect the quality of life locally in their communities, 33 percent say nationally and 30 percent say globally. There is division as well among countries. Consumers in some of the larger countries want companies to focus locally, including Russia (51%), China (49%) and the U.S. (47%). By comparison, countries on the front line of globalization want companies to take a more global view, including Brazil (46%) and India (41%).
Maximize Core Business Competencies
Consumers believe it is important for companies to use every approach at their disposal to address critical issues, including:
Change the way they operate – 96%
Develop a new product or service – 95%
Apply unique business assets (such as technology or research) – 94%
Raise awareness for an issue and educate consumers and employees – 93%
Develop partnerships with or seek feedback from key stakeholders – 91%
Donate employee time and expertise – 86%
Make donations – 84%
But once again consumers have a clear priority. Thirty-one percent say the single most important way a company should address social and environmental issues is to change the way it operates. The results also reveal some interesting country distinctions. In Japan, a hub of product innovation, developing new products and services to address a social or environmental need (29% vs. 16% globally) is a clear point of differentiation, whereas in India, raising awareness for issues is key (21% vs. 11% globally).
“Through our research and insights from industry thought leaders, we found consumers want companies to use their business prowess to address the limitations of governments and NGOs, particularly in emerging markets,” DaSilva says. “The effectiveness of other sectors may be uncertain, but consumers believe companies uniformly have the power, resources and reach to drive change.”
Tell it How it is
Ninety-three percent of consumers want to know what companies are doing to operate more responsibly or to support social/environmental issues, and they also want to be heard (91%) themselves. Consumers want a dialogue, but ultimately they still find convenience in traditional one-way communications. The product/package (22%), media (21%) and advertising (16%) are the most effective channels to reach them with messages about corporate responsibility. However, online and new media are impactful, too. When websites (11%), social media (7%) and mobile devices (3%) are combined, new media move into the upper echelon. In fact, 89 percent of consumers expect companies to use both traditional and new media channels to reach them. But no matter the medium, consumers simply want the truth. Eighty-eight percent say it’s ok if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about its efforts.
“The bottom line from our research is this: consumers around the world want companies to be a force for good, both in the way they do business and in devoting their resources to address societal issues,” says DaSilva. “Just as important, many consumers globally now report they are activists, rewarding companies who act responsibly and punishing companies who do not.”
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About the Research:
The 2011 Cone/Echo Global CR Opportunity Study presents the findings of an online survey conducted June 1-12, 2011 by Echo Research. The survey was conducted in 10 countries – the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, China, India and Japan. Across all countries, the survey was conducted among a random sample of the online adult population ages 18 and older. A total of 10,024 adults completed the survey, including 5,015 men and 5,009 women. The margin of error associated with the total sample is ±1% at a 95% level of confidence. The margin of error for individual country samples of n=1,000 is ±3% at the same level of confidence. Some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.
About Cone Communications:
Cone Communications (www.coneinc.com) is a public relations and marketing agency known for igniting brands with high-impact strategies and programs based in deep insights, unique subject matter expertise and innovation. Focusing on key areas such as consumer product media relations, social media, cause branding and marketing, corporate responsibility, nonprofit marketing, corporate communications and crisis prevention/management – the agency is positioned to help clients achieve both business and societal outcomes. Cone Communications is a part of the Omnicom Group (NYSE: OMC) (www.omnicomgroup.com).
Echo Research (www.echoresearch.com) has a 22-year track record in communications research – media content analysis, stakeholder evaluation and reputation measurement. As part of the Ebiquity Group (www.ebiquity.com), Echo and Ebiquity are leaders in above- and below-line communications tracking and research, providing independent data-driven insights to the global media, CMO and CCO community to continuously improve clients’ business performance.