With the FIFA World Cup well underway, all eyes are on Brazil — and not just on the soccer pitch. Holding court as both a BRIC emerging power and “Fragile Five” economy, Brazil now finds its flaws pushed into the spotlight as the world tunes in.
From the Homeless Workers' Movement to Operation Stop the World Cup, Brazilian citizens are taking to the streets and social media to protest infrastructure, taxes and corruption. Overall, 61 percent of Brazilians believe the World Cup will have a negative impact on the nation, according to a new Pew Research Study.
This activism should come as no surprise — Brazilians index higher than their global peers when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) expectations, and companies need to be mindful when operating in this critical market.
In fact, according to the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study, Brazilians are more likely than any other country to want companies to change the way they operate to align with greater societal needs (50 percent vs. 31 percent globally). The study also revealed that although Brazilian citizens are significantly more likely than the global average to have bought a product associated with a social or environmental issue (79 percent vs. 67 percent globally), they’re also more apt to boycott a company they feel has been deceptive (69 percent vs. 55 percent globally).
A vocal population
Beyond these higher expectations, the recent protests reflect Brazilian citizens’ willingness to do their homework and voice their opinions on what they find. In 2013, more than half (52 percent) of Brazilians researched a company’s business practices or CSR efforts (vs. 34 percent globally).
Going a step further, almost two-thirds told friends and family about a company’s CSR initiatives (64 percent vs. 50 percent globally) and 38 percent gave feedback about those initiatives directly to companies (vs. 32 percent globally).
Social media: An 'activist tool'
As things heat up outside the stadiums, Brazilians see social media as an effective avenue to make change. A staggering 85 percent (vs. 62 percent globally) are using social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues. But it’s not all negative; citizens are actually more likely to share the good work companies are doing: 50 percent of Brazilians say they use social media primarily to share positive news about CSR efforts.
Their sophisticated view of the world and propensity to take part in the conversation may spur from an activist media set present during Brazil’s authoritarian regime, according to Helio Mattar, president of the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption and a founder of the Ethos Institute.
When the country went democratic in the 1980s, media turned its focus to social and environmental issues and the actions of companies. Now, citizens continue this conversation using social media. “Brazilians use social media as an activist tool,” said Mattar.
Personal accountability for change
Brazilians’ inclination to purchase products with a social or environmental benefit, research company efforts and voice opinions all ladder up to the belief that they themselves hold the key to change and impact. More than any other country, nearly two-thirds (57 percent) of Brazilian citizens believe their purchases have a significant positive impact on social and environmental issues (vs. 27 percent globally).
On the flip side, only about a quarter (27 percent) believes companies have made significant positive impact.
As Brazil continues to be on the world stage with events such as the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, companies must be aware of the unique challenges and expectations of these citizens. Companies that do not take these cultural nuances and unique expectations into account may find themselves in the crosshairs of a very vocal and empowered group of consumers.
Organizations operating in Brazil must understand that transparency is crucial to success in this market. Or as Mattar put it, “Transparency is no longer a choice for companies; it’s a must-do. Companies need to realize that stakeholders are vehicles of communication. Corporate reputation will be increasingly defined by what stakeholders say about a company, and less by what companies want to communicate.”
Insights into action
Doing business in Brazil? Arm yourself with the insights and nuances to win the trust and affinity of this group:
Engage online: Brazilian consumers are using social media to get information and share opinions with each other. Companies can take part in this conversation not only by providing additional resources, but also by interacting directly with consumers to answer questions or concerns and proactively communicating CSR initiatives and progress.
Show impact: Brazilians are most likely to believe they themselves are the key to social and environmental impact. Companies working in Brazil face an uphill battle to show how they can also positively affect these issues. Share what your brand is doing to create impact while demonstrating to Brazilians how their engagement ladders up to larger change.
Focus on the right issues: While Brazilians do see economic development as important, they are less likely to think this is the only issue companies should address (27 percent vs. 38 percent globally). Brazilians see education (25 percent vs. 9 percent globally) and the environment (21 percent vs. 19 percent globally) as almost equally important, so companies should be prepared to prioritize these areas as well. The current protests only highlight Brazilian citizens’ needs for organizations to address a wider swath of issues.
Be upfront: Brazilian citizens are more likely to go the extra mile to research a company’s actions — both the positive and the negative. Be open and transparent about progress around social and environmental issues and don’t be afraid to share the pitfalls and challenges that have prevented your company from pushing these issues even further. In fact, Brazilians are very receptive to learning about your CSR journey — 89 percent of Brazilian citizens believe it’s OK if a company is not perfect, as long as it’s honest about its efforts.