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10 insights into engaging consumers

Danielle TergisBy DANIELLE TERGIS, MSM

This article is reposted with the permission of the author. You can find the original article here.

Should your business take a stand on the hot issues of the day? Wondering what will happen if you do and if your business will be negatively affected?

Here’s a brief overview of the annual Cone Communications CSR study along with major highlights and takeaways useful for marketers, communicators, business executives and nonprofit leaders as you make key decisions for your organization.

The major takeaway is that people are no longer asking only “What do you stand for,” but also “What do you stand up for?”

Not a total surprise given the changing landscape brought on by the new administration. And we’ve seen that dynamic play out with a number of companies and campaigns, including the #GrabYourWallet and #BuyIvanka campaigns, as consumers spoke with their wallets based on their beliefs.

More recently Penzeys Spices, a spice company based in Wisconsin, shared with its customers its position on the Trump administration’s stance on immigration and the border with Mexico on the two-year anniversary of President Trump launching his campaign. The response to their message was overwhelmingly positive.

They saw a significant increase in business, support from their customers, new subscribers to their email list, an increase in social media followers, and their original message on Facebook was shared over 35K times.

“A business can try to do what’s right, but without the support of its customers it can only go so far. What you did last Thursday means so much. Not only do we get to keep on with what we are doing and continue to grow, but with those kinds of numbers, other businesses will have to take notice as well,” said Penzeys Spice Owner Bill Penzey.

He went on to say, “With the sheer meanness of what is now happening to education, housing, health insurance, justice, and the environment, if you have a business, now’s the time to make your in-front of the scenes promotional spending count. As last Thursday’s email showed, the people of America are waiting out there to support you in a very big way.”

The Penzeys experience is an apt example supported by a passage in the Cone report:

Americans expect companies to not only improve their business practices and invest in social issues that are aligned with the company, but to be a force for change in broader society. They want companies to stand up for important social justice issues and advance progress for the world at large – and this means doing business with entities that care and share their beliefs.

Here are some highlights that anyone in marketing, communications, and frankly anyone who runs a business or nonprofit, should take into account as you “look to engage the new American consumer.”

  1. Americans are worried about the future of important social and environmental issues due to the current political climate. Although a majority feels progress on important issues will be slowed, they are looking to companies to take the lead in advocating for issues that are important to consumers (Marketing note: It’s important to know which issues your customers care about before you start engaging.)
  2. Consumers see a company’s values as equally as important as its responsible business practices. Americans want to support companies whose values align with theirs – and will punish those that don’t. Companies can gain brand affinity and support by sharing their beliefs and points of view on social justice issues that are taking center stage. (Again, understanding your customer and the issues they care about is also important here).
  3. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) continues to be a differentiator in the minds of consumers, with nearly 25 years of benchmark data showing a steady increase in consumers’ willingness to purchase a product with social benefit. Communicating strong CSR practices consistently reaps reputational and bottom-line benefits year-over-year.
  4. Being a good employer is one of the most important attributes of a responsible company. Companies need to look at their internal practices as an external competitive advantage, not only to attract the best talent, but also to win the hearts and wallets of consumers.
  5. Economic development remains a priority issue for Americans, many of whom haven’t yet felt the impacts of a healthier economy. As an umbrella issue with many facets, companies should evaluate how their CSR efforts are contributing to job creation and preparing the next generation of American workers for success.
  6. Responsible business practices are only half of the equation. Americans expect companies to stand up for issues far outside their operational footprints – from immigration to LGBTQ rights. Companies should determine if they can authentically stand up for social justice issues and be prepared to step into the spotlight.
  7. When it comes to action, consumers see their wallets as the most effective way to drive change – whether that’s making a donation, buying a product with a social or environmental benefit, or boycotting a company that steps out of line. With consumers feeling empowered by their dollars, companies may find themselves the target of praise or backlash with one misstep.
  8. Consumers need more than a Super Bowl ad or a one-off effort to believe a company is committed to making a difference. Companies must take on a surround-sound approach to CSR communications to break through and gain credibility.
  9. Companies can’t afford do keep their CSR efforts a secret. Although Americans expect companies to report on their responsible business practices, they are inherently skeptical of what companies are doing to benefit society. In fact, they won’t believe a company is striving to be responsible until they hear information about positive efforts.
  10. With the communications stakes so high, companies need not wait to be flawless to share efforts. Consistently over the past six years, Americans believe it’s okay if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about efforts.

Danielle Tergis is a senior strategic partnerships, cause marketing and corporate social responsibility program manager who is open to new opportunities. She is a connector, collaborator, problem solver and relationship builder. She guides mission-driven businesses and nonprofits to engage and grow through targeted programs that meet business goals and get results. She has expertise in B2B and B2C marketing, partnerships, branding, communications, public relations and events. She’s worked with well-known mission-driven businesses and nonprofits including Green Festival, Green Seal, Yoga Alliance, FRESHFARM and Soupergirl. You can find her on LinkedIn.

Images are from Cone Communications, 2017 CSR Report.

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