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MBPT Spotlight: Message To Marketers: Consumers Care About Social Responsibility

More than half the respondents in a recent Nielsen global survey said their purchasing decisions are at least partly dependent on the packaging—meaning, they check the labeling before they buy to ensure the brand is committed to positive social and environmental impact.

Those judge-a-book-by-its-cover purchasing considerations were strongest in the Asia-Pacific (63%), Latin American (62%) and the Middle East and African (62%) regions, but less so in Europe (36%) and North America (32%).

These purchasing decisions are also influenced by family and friends who recommend brands that are eco-friendly and contribute to social good. Again, Europe (28%) and North America (29%) lag way behind the Middle East and Africa (62%), Asia-Pacific (59%) and Latin America (45%).

But perhaps even more significant to marketers, a vast amount of consumers surveyed by Nielsen said they were willing to pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. Again, the percentages were largest in Asia-Pacific (64%), Latin America (63%), Middle East and Africa (63%), trailed a bit more closely by North America (42%) and Europe (40%).

While those linking social and environmental causes to brands are mostly from countries outside of North America, which of course includes Canada and the U.S., brands that are not global and do most of their sales in the U.S. should not dismiss the results.

A number such as 42% of consumers who are willing to pay extra to companies who are social and environmentally conscious is still a significant one, and it has increased by 7% since Nielsen conducted a similar survey in 2011.

Being a socially and environmentally conscious company can also bring other benefits—starting with a happier workforce. More than two-thirds of the respondents (67%) in the Nielsen survey said they prefer to work for a socially responsible company.

The survey was fairly extensive, polling 30,000 consumers in 60 countries via the Internet.

Amy Fenton, global leader of public development and sustainability at Nielsen, believes information gathered by the survey is enormously important for marketers.

“As companies drive to create greater shared value, linking their business strategy to societal outcomes, they have to put consumers at the center and understand their expectations,” Felton says. “By identifying the hierarchy of social and traditional brand drivers and the white space opportunities available, you can develop clear and actionable sustainability strategies for your brand that will general loyalty and improve performance.”

Reaching out to millennials (21-34) is the rage today among marketers, so they should be aware that 51% of those in the survey who say they will pay extra for socially sustainable products are in that demo. They are also the largest demo group (51%) who check packaging for sustainable labeling and they make up 49% of those who prefer to work for a sustainable company.

The average of those numbers is more than double the sentiment average for generation X (ages 35-49) respondents (25%) and more than quadruple the sentiment average for baby boomer (50-64) respondents (12%).

The top causes that consumers care about, according to the survey, are (1) increasing access to clean water (67%); (2) improving access to sanitation (63%); (3) ensuring environmental sustainability (63%); (4) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (62%); (4) combating non-communicable diseases (58%); (6) reducing child mortality (58%); (7) improving maternal health (56%); (8) combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases (56%); (9) providing relief following natural disasters (56%); (10) achieving universal primary education (55%); (11) protecting animals (54%); (12) providing greater access to immunizations (52%); (13) promoting gender equality and empowering women (49%); (14) promoting racial, ethnic and cultural inclusiveness (49%); and (15) supporting small business and entrepreneurship (46%).

Fenton’s advice for marketers is that “strategies need to be built in harmony with consumer expectations and the social drivers that mean most to them and solely based on what a company thinks it should do.”

The report concludes by stating, “Opportunities to ‘go green’ or indeed ‘go social’ exist in any category, but you need to understand your brand’s core equity to determine how far you can credibly stretch into the space. The best initiatives are those that appeal to a heterogeneous group of buyers, but a keen focus on your most passionate and profitable consumer segments is also vital.”