The Corporate Philanthropist: Stakeholders' Expectations of Business - Page 8
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Consumer Perspective: Do the Smart Thing
The stock market may be rising, but don’t expect trust in business to come back anytime soon. The collapse of trust in American business has been a long time coming. For more than half a century,
Yankelovich, a leading consumer research company, has been asking the question, “Does business act responsibly?” In 1968, 70 percent of Americans said yes. By 1985, only 30 percent thought business acted responsibly, and last year, just 20 percent thought so.
Why does trust keep falling when so many companies are adopting strong corporate social responsibility policies? The fact is that trust in most institutions has declined, and Americans increasingly expect companies to act responsibly. It’s become table stakes, particularly for well-known brands.
So, what can companies do? How do they rebuild trust and compete at the same time?
First, companies must begin treating their customers like advocates, not just as consumers. Effective marketing used to be about creating brand awareness first, by targeting millions to reach thousands. Today, the imperative is first to engage thousands of brand advocates in order to reach millions more. And what’s the smartest way to engage people? Through a conversation about the things that matter to them.
This is why, of course, social media is so important right now. The medium has changed, and so have the messages. Even before the recession, there was plenty of evidence that people strongly connected with businesses that responded to social needs. Witness the rise of social entrepreneurism and the advent of the Green Revolution. The recession has just accelerated the trend.
Today, American consumers are forced to make hard choices. They are obviously looking much more carefully at the value of what they are buying. It turns out, they are also looking more carefully at the values of the businesses that sell them products and services. And interestingly, they’re not looking so much to make judgments about the business as they are to make judgments about themselves.
People want to do more to better their lives and communities—the recession hasn’t changed that. They also want to lessen their own impact. This changes the focus from questioning whether a company itself is behaving well to whether its products help me, the consumer, become a better, more responsible person. So for a business, it’s all about how I can connect with my customers’ aspirations.
This fundamental change has enormous implications for how companies handle their corporate social responsibility and marketing programs. It demands CSR 2.0 or something that can be called “ethical enterprise.” It’s been gaining steam for years, beginning with pioneering brands like The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s, and Ethos Water, brands largely created by social entrepreneurs that go beyond traditional cause marketing to address a social purpose. In fact, social purpose is built right into their DNA so consumers can “do the right thing” themselves through their purchases.
The most successful companies of the future will match their skill sets to social needs and create legions of advocates in the process. For business, it turns out that doing the right thing is doing the smart thing.
Weber Shandwick is the world’s leading public relations and public affairs firm with offices in major media, business, and government capitals around the world.
CECP asks today’s business leaders to consider:
- Do your customers see the best of themselves reflected in the way you do business?
- Does your company’s community engagement provide a competitive advantage?
- Social media has opened the floodgates to instant communication with customers. How will this trend change the way your company communicates its values?