Marketers' Underestimate Consumers' Liking For CSR

They Also Fail To Recognize Which Regions Care Most (Think Emerging Markets)

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Marketers are underestimating the importance of purpose-driven marketing and corporate social responsibility to their consumers, according to new research presented at the World Federation of Advertisers' annual conference this week in Brussels.

Global marketers surveyed overwhelmingly said that CSR will be increasingly important in building brands in the future, with 88% agreeing with that statement. However, only 46% of those marketers thought that consumers share and approve their support for good causes -- when in fact 60% of consumers surveyed claimed to be looking for brands with a sense of purpose.

(For a different view on purpose-driven marketing, see Rance Crain's column this week ) Is the Era of Purpose-Driven Ads (Finally) Over?

The survey, done by the WFA and Edelman based on the responses of 149 marketers and 8,000 consumers, broadly defines "purpose" as "creating programs to positively impact the community," "protecting and improving the environment," "listening and acting on customer feedback" and "ethical business practices."

Marketers were also out of step with consumers when it came to the idea that it's acceptable for brands to support good causes and make money at the same time. Marketers expected only 56% of consumers to agree, but in fact 76% of respondents were comfortable with marketers' commercial imperatives. North American marketers -- at 64% -- were most likely to expect their consumers to understand that making money and doing good are not mutually exclusive.

Marketers also underestimated consumers' own backing of good causes. Only 46% said they thought their customers support good causes, whereas 60% of consumers claimed that they do.

The biggest gap was in marketers' perceptions of which region's consumers are most motivated by "purpose." When asked which region's consumers are most likely to make purchases based on good causes, 58% of marketers chose Europe, 36% North America, 5% Asia and 1% opted for South America. They could not have been more wrong. Consumers in the rapidly growing emerging economies consistently said they were willing to pay more for brands with a purpose.

When asked to pick the company that is most successful at communicating and executing purpose, 23% of marketers chose Unilever. Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble were next with 15% and 14% of their peers' votes, and McDonald's came in fourth with 10%.

A defined sense of purpose was identified as critical to attracting the best talent by 66% of marketers surveyed, and 44% agreed with the statement, "The company I work for is fundamentally re-evaluating its corporate positioning in light of a renewed sense of purpose."

Marketers surveyed nearly all agreed that social media is essential to engaging people with a brand's purpose and to "help shape it as part of an ongoing dialogue."

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