Social responsibility remains a high priority for consumers, regardless of the recession, according to the second annual Corporate Social Responsibility Branding Survey, conducted by research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with brand consulting firm Landor Associates and strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller. The survey finds that 77 percent of consumers say that it is important for companies to be socially responsible.
The research also reveals that consumers think that companies most often come up short in the sectors where responsible behavior is most important. Of the five industries where respondents most highly value responsibility, financial services, healthcare, and media are perceived as performing worst on the issue. The healthcare industry fared especially badly, as just 35 percent of consumers say that the industry has performed well on social responsibility over the last five years: a 10 percentage-point drop since 2009.
“The industries that consumers perceive as lacking in responsibility may have the greatest opportunity to benefit from authentically improving their image,” says Scott Osman, global director of Landor Associates’ citizenship branding practice. “Johnson & Johnson, a recognized leader in corporate responsibility, performed very well relative to the healthcare sector this year.
“The fact that consumers cite the poor performance of these industries shows that they care and are paying attention. By communicating real success in the area of corporate responsibility, corporations have the potential for considerable benefits.”
The survey also found that companies have an opportunity to influence consumer perceptions if they are able to communicate their social responsibility efforts. Just 13 percent of consumers report having read about a company’s social responsibility agenda on its website, but 75 percent of those who have done so indicated that it made them more likely to purchase products or services from that company.
“Companies need to combine strong social responsibility programs with effective communication of what they are doing,” noted Eric Biel, managing director for corporate responsibility at Burson-Marsteller. “While many consumers may not be precise in how they define terms like ‘corporate social responsibility,’ they have a clear sense of how they expect companies to behave.
“They expect companies to offer high-quality products at good prices and to explain how they treat their employees well, give back to their communities, and respect the environment,” added Biel. “Those companies that can clearly articulate how they advance these values to consumers can achieve real benefits for their brands and overall reputation.”
The survey suggests that socially responsible behavior can also have significant business impact. Even during tough economic times, 38 percent of respondents still plan to spend the same or more for products and services from socially responsible companies. And 70 percent are willing to pay more for a $100 product from a company they regard as responsible.
Other key findings of the survey include:
· Of 14 tested industries, food, consumer goods and retailers are perceived as performing best, while financial services, healthcare and media are perceived as performing worst.
· Consumers perceive General Mills as the most responsible of 64 tested brands.
· Seventy percent report that they are willing to pay more for a product from a company they regard as responsible.