A global consumer study of nearly 10,000 people in nine countries has underlined the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for brands but also shows some scepticism in the UK.
The research conducted in the UK, France, Germany, US, China, India, Japan, Canada and Brazil reveals that consumers believe their choice of products and services can have a social and environmental impact.
Nine in ten consumers polled say that companies needed to operate responsibly, going beyond simply making a profit and the study demonstrates the crucial importance of sharing information around CSR initiatives in the right way. Fifty-two per cent of consumers will assume a company is not acting responsibly unless they are told otherwise.
From our experience, it is essential for companies in all sectors to be clear and honest about the CSR strategies they are implementing, particularly around sustainability and work to connect with their customers in personally relevant ways.
Brands should be reflecting the changing behaviour of consumers and build stronger relationships around the socially aware impulses of people around the globe. The study, for example, shows that 84% of consumers say they seek out responsible products whenever possible, though 81% cite availability of these products as the largest barrier to not purchasing more.
Less consumer confusion
The report from Cone Communications and Ebiquity indicates that consumers are more optimistic overall about their own ability to make a positive impact with 72% saying that their purchases make a moderate-to-significant positive impact on social or environmental issues.
This proactive view could be grounded in a growing command of CSR terms and language; consumer confusion of company CSR messages has dropped from 71% in 2011 to 65% this year.
At the same time, four in five are willing to consume or purchase fewer products to preserve natural resources (81%) or buy a product from an unknown brand if it has strong CSR commitments (80%).
More evidence of socially aware views is indicated by the fact that 61% of those polled are willing to borrow or share products rather than buy new ones, while 57% would purchase a product of lesser quality or efficacy if it was more socially or environmentally responsible.
UK less trusting
However, the report highlights some surprising views around CSR in the UK with many of those polled being less enthusiastic and trusting that in the other eight countries in the survey.
More UK consumers than the global average – 57% in contrast to 52% – generally would not believe that companies are striving to be as responsible as possible until they hear about positive efforts and only 14% believe their purchases have a significant impact on social and environmental issues, compared with 29% globally.
They are also least likely to believe that companies have made a significant impact – 15% compared to 27% globally.
The survey also showed that UK consumers are more likely than the global average to ignore CSR messages unless something goes wrong (59% vs. 50%) while 71% are confused by CSR communications, compared with 65% globally.
The report advises:
“This may explain why consumers in the U.K. are less apt to view themselves as a partner in addressing social and environmental issues alongside companies. Across the board, U.K. citizens say they are less likely to participate in company CSR efforts if given the opportunity, and reported actions mirror this group’s apathetic inclinations.”
Given this level of scepticism, it is somewhat surprising that people in the UK are more than happy to give money to a charity that is supported by a company with 70% advising that they have done so over the past year, in contrast to the 61% global average.
The report shows that the sceptical views of UK consumers need to be addressed by companies in ways that engage both at the emotional and intellectual levels, demonstrating and reinforcing how much impact sustainability and other CSR initiatives are having and will continue to have. At the same time, brands can help consumers feel more confident that their buying decisions do have a significant social and environmental impact.