Insights into CSR – Who are the Leaders of our Global Village?

15 May 2007|Added Value

An Icon Added Value CSR Study

Corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, corporate image – all things ‘corporate’ are high on the agenda. When the turnover of WalMart is as high as the gross domestic product of Denmark; when the top 200 companies account for a quarter of all global economic activity; when more than half of the 100 greatest economic powers are companies rather than countries; then it is about time that we begin to wonder what responsibilities companies have, what responsibilities they should have and what they actually take responsibility for.

In view of the UN climate report, the globalisation debate, the social conflicts and problems at our own front door, the much-maligned western value vacuum, international conflicts and, last but not least, the tangibly decreasing power of western politics, companies are more and more moving into the public eye. Never before has it been so clear to the population that we only have one Planet Earth and that – at least in the eyes of a growing number of companies – this is their market. The concept of a “global village” covers a lot more than just communications.

Dr. Hildegard Keller-Kern, Managing Director and member of the Management Board at Icon Added Value, the marketing insight company, says: “In this study, we looked into the responsibility of companies – into what the ‘man on the street’ currently thinks and what he wants for the future, what the burning issues are and which companies should focus on which aspects. We also investigated attitudes to specific brands using a selection of 25 brands from different sectors of industry.” A total of 500 people from a representative sample not only answered an online questionnaire but, as Dr. Keller-Kern points out, “they also allowed us to see from their responses how much this subject affects people.”

There is virtually no-one in Germany who has not considered the subject of corporate social responsibility (CSR) – in their own thoughts, if nowhere else. People are also prepared to get involved in the challenges: individuals are as responsible as the government and companies. Of course, there are different attitudes to CSR among the population – “the broad majority”, “committed”, “sceptics” and “opponents”. Reducing CO2 emissions, decreasing environmental pollution and improving resource preservation are the most important challenges of the future. But management payments, corruption and transparency are also hot topics. Work-related issues come in third place. Topics with no universal relevance, such as local issues and charity, are seen as less important.

When shopping proximity beats distance
Individualism still reigns; purchase decisions are most strongly influenced by the things that directly affect us, such as healthy products. Overall, the population is not impressed with the level of corporate responsibility demonstrated by German companies. Only 11% see a high level of responsible action, with 43% seeing responsibility “to some extent” and 35% feeling that responsibility is not taken seriously at all. There was a wide range even among the big brands/companies. None achieved better than “average”, no brand was rated “good”. Some were viewed very critically, with the respondents seeing no evidence of responsible conduct. The brand or company itself determines the perception, irrespective of its industry: it is the mental image, i.e. the positive signals it puts out and the absence of negative ones that affects the perception of the “man in the street” about responsible corporate behaviour. You only have to think about the signals each of us associates with brands like Hipp on the one hand and BenQ on the other.

Non compliance will be exposed
There is already a move towards awareness of responsible corporate behaviour, and this awareness is set to increase further in the future. Behaviour which is perceived as negative will have an even stronger impact. Sitting on the fence will no longer be enough. Although a few moderate opinion swings can be expected, the general trend of awareness and interest in responsible corporate behaviour is upwards. “What might have been acceptable yesterday will no longer be enough tomorrow. Or, to put it another way, we predict that responsible corporate behaviour will become a “hygiene factor” in the not-too-distant future, something that is expected as a matter of course from brands and companies”, explains Dr. Keller-Kern. The fundamental challenge for CSR officers and marketing departments is that it is not getting any easier to stand out against this backdrop. The traditional rules of marketing are as much in demand as seriousness in dealing with the issues and real sensitivity to tone. Activities also need to be appropriate to the business and its core competencies. And, last but not least, the price has to be right when it comes to concrete products. This means that a strong mental image in the minds of the people with a clear, unique and appealing iconography will be necessary in order to communicate the message of responsible corporate behaviour in a credible way.

Please contact us for a complimentary copy of this study – Anne-Kathrin.Kirchhof@icon-added-value.com

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