Consumer Interest in Socially Responsible Companies Rising, Survey Finds

Consumer Interest in Socially Responsible Companies Rising, Survey Finds

Americans' expectations of businesses are at an all-time high, with more than two-thirds of Americans saying they take a company's business practices into account when they consider their purchases, according to the latest Cause Evolution Survey from marketing and public relationships company Cone.

The study also found a a substantial increase in the number of American workers who want their employers to support a social cause or issue. Cone's researchers said the results suggest that the country has undergone an evolution in consumer thinking about the ways businesses interact with society.

"Good business primarily used to be about providing fair value, decent service, and high quality. Then it expanded to include a company's societal role and contributions," said Julia Hobbs Kivistik, executive vice president of Cause Branding at Cone. "Now, companies have a strategic imperative to also consider their operating practices and how they impact their social commitments. Today's informed consumers are now asking, 'Is this a good company?' and 'What does it stand for?'"

About one-third of American shoppers responding to the survey said that, across a range of industries, business practices are now an additional purchasing influence, and another third of consumers consider both social issues and business practices when deciding what to buy. The overwhelming majority of Americans -- 85 percent -- say they would switch to another company's products or services if a problem with business practices was uncovered.

The survey found that Americans are more likely than ever before to reward companies for their support of social issues. Eighty-seven percent are likely to switch from one brand to another (price and quality being about equal) if the other brand is associated with a good cause, an increase of more than 31 percent when the question was asked in 1993.

"Cause marketing has come of age," says Carol Cone, the company's chairman and founder. "Consumers expect companies to support social issues, and companies have responded in a variety of ways, from multi-year, multimillion dollar commitments, to something as simple as adding a ribbon to a package or ad and donating funds to a nonprofit."

Cone added that simply "ribbonizing" a product is no longer sufficient, and that as consumer awareness about these issues has increased, companies must both identify the causes their customers most care about and develop "authentic, sustainable, transparent and well-communicated" programs to address the causes.

Attitudes in the workplace have undergone a similar revolution, the survey found. 72 percent of employees said they wished their employers would do more to support a social issue, an increase of 38 percent since Cone's 2004 survey on the subject.

"Because of the advancements in technology and the Internet, there is no longer a separation between the workplace and community," Carol Cone said. "The workplace has become community for today's employees, so it is important for companies to deeply engage with them through purposeful work around causes and through communications about their business practices which are aligned with these causes."

Many companies are choosing which issues to support based on where they can deliver the most meaningful business and social results to their stakeholders. Nine in 10 Americans say companies should support causes that are consistent with their responsible business practices. Eighty-seven percent say they want a company to support issues based on where its business can have the most social and/or environmental impacts.

The top issues that survey respondents want companies to address are health, at 80 percent, and education, environment and economic development following closely at 77 percent.