10 Key Findings on the Rising Role of CSR

Today's consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). A recent nine-country consumer survey of attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors around CSR conducted by Cone Communications shows that CSR is much more than a mere afterthought or minor consideration for shoppers around the globe. The study reveals that CSR is now deeply integrated into how consumers lead their lives, what products they purchase, and even where they choose to work. With these findings come new pressures for companies to break through and leverage CSR to obtain a competitive advantage. Below, Giva has carefully selected 10 insights from the survey for companies looking to effectively engage global citizens in CSR efforts:

Rising Corporate Social Responsibility

#1: Seeing is Believing

According to the survey, nearly all global consumers expect companies to act responsibly, but 52% still need to hear or see proof of a company's CSR initiatives in order to believe them. To dispel any trace of doubt or distrust, companies must develop comprehensive CSR programs, share their efforts, and publish their results across multiple touch points.

#2: Above and Beyond

Consumers say they pay attention to two things: (1) companies that are going above and beyond with CSR efforts and (2) companies that are being called out for poor CSR performance or wrongdoing. Clearly, simply keeping up with the pack will not be enough. Companies must strive to get the right kind of attention through bold goals and clear, consistent CSR initiatives. Companies must also put words into action, and communicate their CSR efforts in a way that grabs the attention of today's increasingly perceptive consumer.

#3: Rising CSR Awareness

As hinted earlier, the data from the study reveals a sharp decrease in consumer confusion around CSR messages and a surprising grasp of complex CSR terms. In fact, 72% of global consumers believe their purchases make a moderate-to-significant impact on social and environmental issues. However, companies should continue to educate and simplify their CSR messages, as nearly two-thirds of consumers will ignore messages with CSR terms they do not understand.

#4: Responsible Consumers

Consumers are increasingly willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good and even compromise quality, prices, and quantity of goods in the process. According to the statistics:

  • 90% said they would switch to brands that supported responsible causes
  • 57% would purchase a product with lesser quality if it was better for the environment or society
  • 71% said they would pay more for socially responsible goods and services
  • 81% said they would curtail wasteful spending if it would benefit the environment or help solve a social issue.

Companies should see this increase in responsible consumption as an opportunity to engage consumers more fully in their CSR initiatives.

#5: Good Intentions, Lagging Performance

Despite good intentions of consumers worldwide, there remains a persistent gap between intent and reported behaviors. The survey indicates a decline over time in reported purchases of products with CSR benefit—from 77% in 2011 to 63% in 2015. Further research shows this decline may have less to do with consumers' enthusiasm for ethical consumerism and more about accessibility to socially responsible products. Though consumers say they proactively seek responsible products every time they shop (84%), they also cite unavailability of products as the primary obstacle preventing them from purchasing more (81%). Companies can help consumers close this gap by increasing the availability of their products and providing more opportunities to make responsible purchases.

#6 Confidence in Change

Although only 27% of global consumers feel companies are actually making a significant impact on environmental and social issues, this confidence is slowly increasing. This year's data signals a positive change from 21% in 2013 to 27% in 2015. To build on this momentum, companies must show proof of progress in a clear and effective way through a combination of stories and easily accessible data.

#7: Information Needs

On one hand, 88% of global consumers want companies to clearly and effectively communicate their CSR efforts. On the other, 87% also said it is "okay" if a company is not perfect at communicating with consumers as long as it is honest about its CSR efforts. In other words, today's consumer understands that CSR is often a journey with challenges and barriers along the way, but still believes there is room for improvement in how CSR information is shared. Companies should address this need and optimize the accessibility, accuracy, and means of communicating CSR efforts.

#8: Social Media is Key

Social media is becoming an increasingly important way for consumers to access CSR data, voice their opinions, and speak directly to companies about CSR issues. Companies need to embrace emerging social platforms and technologies as effective methods for educating consumers about their CSR efforts and outcomes, engaging them in a constructive dialogue, and inspiring them to take action.

#9: CSR Reports are Still Relevant

Unfortunately, only a quarter of global citizens are reading traditional corporate CSR reports. But the data within these reports are still relevant. Companies have the opportunity to make the content of their CSR report more approachable, interactive, and less daunting for consumers through the use of sleek info-graphics, insightful videos, and games. For some inspiration, take a look at Warby Parker's 2013 Annual Report.

#10: Beyond the Cash Register

Global consumers view their role in making a difference as extending well beyond the cash register. Companies should serve as a catalyst for sparking donations, volunteerism and hands-on advocacy by giving consumers a wide range of ways to make a positive impact.