Brands have a lot of responsibility these days to help improve society and take stands on cultural issues they support—and although consumers are willing to be flexible with their expectations, they expect to see that a brand’s heart is in the right place. New research from Aflac confirms that consumers and investors expect companies to take a stand, but not the wrong one, and they will forgive missteps, but only conditionally.
According to the 2019 Aflac Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, consumers and investors reflect a distinct and growing tendency to increase pressure on American corporations when it comes to serving the social good.
A majority of consumers agree that companies have a special responsibility for helping make the world a better place:
“Over the past 5 years, Aflac has conducted an annual corporate social responsibility survey taking on the biggest challenges that corporations face from the #metoo movement to this year’s topic, the brands taking stands movement,” said Catherine Hernandez-Blades, Aflac SVP, chief communications and ESG officer, in a news release. “Customers are looking for purpose in the companies with which they will do business, with 55 percent of respondents saying that companies should make their purpose a key component of their overall messaging.”
Health and tolerance top the list of issues Americans believe need to be addressed in order to make the world a better place:
Among the survey’s key findings:
- Over three-quarters (77 percent) of consumers say they would be motivated to purchase a company’s products or services if the company shows they are committed to making the world a better place; 73 percent of investors (defined as adults who own individual stocks) agree that a company’s efforts to help improve society and the environment contribute positively to return on stockholder’s investments.
- 49 percent of respondents said that it is very important for a company to “make the world a better place”, while 37 percent said it is very important for a business to “make money for its shareholders”.
- Younger (millennial) investors put significantly more effort into researching a company’s role in improving society and the environment before deciding to invest—41 percent compared to Gen X (27 percent) or boomers (16 percent).
- Fifty-five percent of American consumers say it’s important for companies to take a stand on social and political issues, 53 percent of consumers also say they have stopped using the products of a company because of its public position on some issue, and 48 percent of investors report they have decided to not invest in a company because of its position on some issue, with 38 percent having actually sold shares.
- A surprisingly large majority of consumers (72 percent) report they are willing to “forgive” a company’s bad behavior, either unethical or illegal. Still, many Americans have grown cynical when it comes to judging corporate social behavior, claiming “zero tolerance” when it comes to infractions of ethical corporate codes. This “one strike club” includes 25 percent of consumers and 22 percent of investors.
Investors and consumers agree that making the world a better place starts with large companies treating their employees well by providing fair and equitable wages:
“The results of the Aflac CSR Survey shows why employers should be extremely concerned about how the public perceives their company in terms of corporate responsibility, but an even greater concern is how they are perceived by their own employees,” said Dave Armon, CEO of 3BL Media, a leading communication agency for purpose-driven companies, in the release. “Employees want to do so much more than take home a paycheck. They want to be proud of who they are working for, which ultimately drives up productivity.”
Research findings are based on an online survey fielded in the United States May 3-8, 2019, of 1,691 American adults age 18 and older by Teneo. A separate online survey of 503 investors was conducted May 3-13, 2019.