Ethical behaviour and social consciousness: A new report spotlights CSR in the Middle East
By Bushra Azhar
If you are a company contemplating your corporate social responsibility strategy (CSR) in the Middle East how do you answer the most basic question that sets strategy, i.e., "Is there such a thing as a socially conscious consumer?"
Do consumers ever worry about how ethical a company is without considering first how good the deal is for their own wallets? In the absence of any substantiated data, I have been on the fence about this question for a long time now; consumers do care but not enough to drive positive change. However, findings from the recent Nielsen survey have finally thrown me off the fence.
CSR in the Middle East North Africa (MENA): Neilson Report
According to the study, 75 percent of consumers in the MENA region prefer to buy from responsible companies. This number is lower than Latin America but ahead of Asia Pacific, North America and Europe. Nielsen defined “socially-conscious consumers” as those who say they prefer buying products and services from companies that include social considerations as part of their business, and surveyed 28,000 online respondents across 56 countries.
The study found that 72 percent of consumers prefer to work and invest in companies who care, with 53 percent also willing to pay extra for dealing with a company who is socially responsible.
What do Consumers Care About?
The respondents were given a list of 18 social causes to choose from including issues like environmental sustainability, animal protection and social equality. The top three causes identified by the socially conscious consumer in the MENA region were:
- Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
- Improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math [STEM] training and education, and
- Increasing access to clean water.
While these issues might not sound out of the ordinary, they become quite unique when compared to the radically different answers from the other regions in the study. Even more interesting: the least important cause in the eyes of these consumers was undertaking development projects that beneﬁt the communities around their ofﬁces or manufacturing units – a cause most companies consider a primary focus of their community investment strategy.
In fact, community development investments in the Middle East are heavily skewed toward developing programs for companies' fence-line communities rather than more macro-level approaches. But these findings clearly show why this approach hasn’t worked well in the past and suggests a shift afoot.
How do we reach the Socially Conscious Consumer?
While companies' community development approach might be working to some extent, Neilson suggests that most companies fall flat on their faces when it comes to connecting with these socially conscious consumers. While television/print ads and outdoor media are still the most popular advertising and promoting media for companies in the region, the survey results indicate a continued lack of efficacy.
According to the study, when it comes to social companies, 95 percent of the respondents trust recommendations from people they know, while 76 percent look for opinions and information posted by other consumers online. Interestingly, respondents favored content marketing with 65 percent saying they trust companies or products that have been featured in newspaper or magazine articles.
Throughout the study, the significance of word of mouth (WOM) in communicating worthy causes is reinforced.
Consumers who care are more likely (65 percent) than regular consumers (58 percent) to trust information passed on through editorial content. Is it finally time for more companies to use these mediums (blogs, social media platforms, consumer reviews) to reach the consumer instead of spending millions on television advertisements and billboards?
Getting Rid of an Old Argument: "Consumers Don’t Care"
It is time that companies in the region begin to break out of their overly exhausted excuse that the consumer doesn’t care (maybe I need to do that too).
In order for companies to maximize the return on investment in CSR and to strike a chord with their target audience, it is important to address the causes they care about most and in ways that impacts them most.
The findings of this survey are only the first step in that direction. Consumers are increasingly voting with their wallets and by not reaching out to capture their interest and not being vocal about your social and environmental impact, companies stand to lose out in the long term.