Consumers the world over are increasingly keen to buy from socially responsible companies. In a 2015 Nielsen global survey, two-thirds of respondents said that they were willing to pay more for products and services from companies whom they perceive as being good for society and the environment. Consumer preference for corporate social responsibility (CSR) has risen 11 points since Nielsen’s 2014 survey and 16 points since their 2013 survey. Moreover, a recent global study by Zendesk found that more than 77 percent of consumers prefer to buy from socially responsible companies and are also willing to pay 5-10 percent more for their products and services. Additionally, 74 percent of these consumers also provided good social word-of-mouth (SWOM) for these companies by posting favorable comments on the companies’ websites as and on social media. CSR is in, and in a big way, but there’s more to earning CSR cachet than simply giving money to charity.
Some of the most charitable corporations are viewed the least favorably by the public. In the eyes of consumers, charity alone does not make up for socially irresponsible business practices. CSR-savvy consumers prefer companies that have a positive impact on society and the environment because of how they do business, as opposed to giving to charity in an effort to make up for deleterious business practices. By way of example, Pfizer is the third highest charitable donor in the pharmaceuticals industry. And yet, in the most recent Reputation Institute study, Pfizer ranked dead last out of the 14 pharmaceutical companies analyzed. Further, in a 2016 Gallup poll, Americans rated the pharmaceutical industry overall as the second most negative business/industry sector (the only more negatively viewed sector was the Federal Government).
The difference between charitable acts redounding to a company’s benefit in the public eye vs. being perceived as cynical opportunism often comes down to public relations strategy and tactics. In the early 2000s, Philip Morris’s charitable donations backfired and the tobacco giant was heavily criticized for having spent more money to publicize its charitable efforts than it had given to actual charities. A more effective public relations approach is for a company to tie its donations to a larger CSR initiative or ongoing charitable work, not just a one-off contribution.
Having CSR cachet that boosts a company’s reputation and brand tends to require doing business in a way that is seen as having a positive impact on society and the environment, and the way that story is presented to the public can make all of the difference in how the company’s reputation and brand are impacted. To make a positive impact on society and boost your company’s reputation, a strong public relations plan is key.