Expectations of corporate social responsibility means Americans looking to businesses to drive change

Corporate Social Responsibility

Due to today's political environment, more than two-thirds (67%) of Americans believe progress on social and environmental issues may go un-addressed by politicians with 63% hoping businesses will drive change.

An estimated seven in ten Americans believe companies have an obligation to take actions to improve issues, and there is no doubt they are looking more closely at those businesses that feel the same way. The 2017 Cone Communications survey looked at the responses of over 1,000 men and women this past March and the results point to a more discerning public on the topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

"The events over the past year have ignited a groundswell of activism on very divisive topics and Americans are questioning future progress. They are looking to companies to drive change on the issues they hold dear," says Alison DaSilva, executive vice president, CSR Strategy, Cone Communications. "Now, consumers and potential clients are no longer just asking, 'What do you stand for,' but also, 'What do you stand up for?'"

While Americans are hopeful that companies will take the reins on issue that range from poverty and hunger (19%), environment (15%) human rights (14%) and education (9%), nearly 94% of those surveyed believe companies should be good employers, with companies operating in a way that protects and benefits society and the environment (90%).

"Being a good employer has always served companies well in terms of recruitment and retention, now those practices can also yield broader positive business benefits," says DaSilva. "Companies should now showcase their internal efforts to enhance their reputation and gain crucial points in the eyes of consumers."

Americans have also resoundingly prioritized economic development (34%) as the top issue for companies to address, consistent since 2011. A topic that was widely covered in the 2016 US presidential election, economic development is a macro issue that is inclusive of a variety of difficulties impacting communities across the globe.

Beyond the overarching issues, Americans expect companies to get involved in job development (94%), continuing the theme of economic development. However, those surveyed also felt companies had a role to play in other social justice concerns facing the United States today, including racial equality (87%) and women's rights (84%). Other issues Americans want companies to address include cost of higher education (81%), immigration (78%), climate change (76%) and gun control (65%).

Nearly three-quarters (73%) said they would stop purchasing a product from a company that shared a different perspective on one of these polarizing issues.

"Simply addressing issues within the business footprint is no longer going to cut it in the eyes of consumers," says Whitney Dailey, director, marketing/research and insights, Cone Communications. "Today's consumers expect companies to have a voice on oftentimes divisive issues, and they're willing to boycott if a company's core beliefs does not align with their own."

The study shows how expectations on companies is quite different than it was 25 years ago. With nearly nine out of ten Americans (89%) stating today that they would switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause, compared with 66% in 1993. And whenever possible, a majority (79%) continue to seek out products that are socially or environmentally responsible.

The research demonstrates that CSR is a growing and powerful strategy to build brand reputation in both B2C and B2B, loyalty and affinity. Increasing over time, respondents have a more positive image (92% vs. 85% in 1993), are more likely to trust (87% vs. 66% in 1998) and are more loyal (88%) to companies that support social and environmental issues.

"Consumer sentiment has grown significantly over the last two decades, showing an unwavering conviction to do business with companies that care," says Dailey. "CSR is not a fad, a trend or nice-to-have. It's a business imperative that must be authentic and seamlessly integrated into the brand value proposition."

Laurie Fullerton

Laurie Fullerton is a writer based in Boston, MA with a background in business, sports, community, medical and travel writing. She has been a newspaper editor in the Boston-area, a sports writer covering yacht racing and a community reporter. She has been reporting for The Drum since October 2015.

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