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Three Factors that Drive Consumption of Responsible Products

Consumers value corporate social responsibility (CSR) and responsible products when they see information, moral alignment, and affordability.

As few as 20 per cent of consumers base their purchasing decisions on a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR). So when do consumers value CSR?

Magdalena Öberseder, Bodo Schlegelmilch and Verena Gruber (all from the Institute for International Marketing Management in Vienna) sought to better understand why so few consumers put their money where their mouth is.

The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with Western Europeans to understand their consumption preferences and the role of CSR in consumption decisions. They found that three factors motivate consumers to buy from socially responsible companies:

  • Information. Consumers can’t consider a company’s CSR initiatives if they don’t know about them. They also have to trust the credibility of the CSR information that reaches them. Managers should focus on marketing the CSR initiatives that are directly related to the products they sell. To spread the word on the company’s socially responsible work, managers can incorporate the use of marketing channels such as Twitter and Facebook that leverage first-hand experience of consumers. These efforts will increase information availability and improve perceived credibility.

  • Moral alignment. Once consumers have information, they need to assess whether the company’s CSR practices align with their own values. Companies can increase the odds of moral alignment by identifying the unique values of target consumer groups and strategically marketing the appropriate CSR initiatives to each group.

  • Affordability. Above all else, consumers must deem products affordable. One respondent reported, “I won’t pay 100 euro more, but if it is a question of 20 or 30 cents, I will pay more for fair trade.” For this reason, marketing should focus on communicating that responsibly made products are no more expensive than other products.Marketers paying heed to these three factors can improve CSR-driven sales.

Future research could focus on confirming these findings using more quantitative methods. Research could also explore how to influence each of the three criteria above.

Öberseder, Magdalena, Schlegelmilch, Bodo B., Gruber, Verena. 2011. “Why Don’t Consumers Care about CSR?”: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Role of CSR in Consumption Decisions. Journal of Business Ethics 104 (4): 449-460.

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  • Chelsea Hicks-Webster

    Hi, I’m Chelsea. I have a Masters degree in Sustainability, where I studied ecosystem health. I'm also a Certified Life Coach. I used to be the Operations Manager for NBS, but now I just focus on my favourite part of that job – the writing! I also run a social enterprise, called Creating Me, dedicated to strengthening maternal and family well-being. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to balance career goals, impact, and one’s own well-being. When I’m not working on my own impact goals, I offer executive coaching and writing support to help researchers and change-makers grow their impact and well-being. (creatingme.ca/sustainability).

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