01 Jun When CSR Aligns with Purpose: What Consumers Want in 2021
2020 was a year of open and public reckoning with inequality. As corporations raced to position themselves as part of the solution (not part of the problem), consumers started asking, “Where am I spending my money? What are those companies really doing to effect change?”
And as a result of this questioning, record numbers of consumers switched brand loyalty during the pandemic. How can companies realign their corporate social responsibility to stay in tune with their audiences?
Ethical Fading in Place of Good Governance
In our last post, we spotlighted examples of companies that lost out because they lost sight of their core values. Renowned author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek calls this unique lack of compassion ‘ethical fading’ in his book The Infinite Game. It’s a phenomenon where a large group of people make unethical decisions but still believe they are well within their own ethical framework: they believe they have done nothing wrong as long as it’s not illegal.
This happens when companies lose their brand compass over time, replacing their core purpose and ethics in favor of process; in other words, a ‘profit-above-all’ mentality. Ethical fading includes the practice of creating euphemisms to create distance from the impact of a decision, like saying, “We would never spy on our customers, but data mining is valuable and helpful.” No longer is the business being guided by an ethical culture driven by a purpose that enriches employees, consumers and community – it’s about the bottom line.
CSR That Moves the Needle
The public is demanding more from the country’s business leaders – tangible CSR, not just window-dressing. They want to hear clear, authentic promises, rooted in a company’s real, practiced values. They want to see concrete, measurable improvements in equity and social justice. For example:
- Coca Cola, Delta and United, among those leading the charge against Georgia’s discriminatory voting laws
- The City of Portland Oregon’s 5-year racial equity plan, with a promise of regular reports
- M.M. LaFleur (and many other companies) changing expectations and structures to get moms back into the workforce after COVID, when women gave up working to care for children at far higher rates than men
- Among Fast Company’s most innovative CSR initiatives, Microsoft has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030
What Consumers Want
Consumers want companies to use their power to help actually make the world a better place, and business is listening. In 2021, some of the top trends shaping CSR initiatives include local volunteering to further connect with the community; aligning with current social cause events so brands are about something more than profit, and focusing on stakeholders in addition to shareholders. The public is asking companies to pick a cause that truly means something, and invest in it.
As the CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, wrote in his 2020 Letter to CEOs, “a strong sense of purpose and a commitment to stakeholders helps a company connect more deeply to its customers and adjust to the changing demands of society. Ultimately, purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.”
The key here is purpose. For CSR to really work – to be believable, to invite consumers to ‘join’ companies in a truly compelling cause – it can’t be a response to social pressure, driven by fear of loss. This is a prime moment for leaders to refocus on the reasons for their companies’ existence, the value they bring to the marketplace, and how they can expand their field of view to offer more to their community.
That is what captures the public imagination.