October 14, 2019

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Empowered Consumerism: Why Developing Countries Represent the Greatest CSR Opportunity

Nearly all consumers in Brazil, China and India are more likely to have a positive image, trust and be loyal to companies that engage in CSR.


Part of the Consumer Research: Turning Insights into Action series

By Alison DaSilva

Rising economies such as those in Brazil, China and India are undeniably growing global powerhouses with combined GDPs (plus Russia) expected to exceed those represented by the G7 by 2050. 

As business booms, the spotlight on pressing issues, including human rights, education and wealth gaps, shines ever brighter. With societal and environmental needs both poignant and urgent, all eyes are on multinational corporations to play a role in addressing critical issues where government cannot or has not.

In stark contrast to industrialized nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, where government regulations at least ostensibly standardize good operating principles, Brazil, China and India are nascent yet burgeoning CSR greenfields.

Acute Needs Create Hyper-Engaged Consumers

Perhaps because of those very acute and tangible needs, these markets are home to some of the most passionate and engaged consumers the world has ever seen. The unbridled and near unanimous consumer support and enthusiasm for corporate social responsibility efforts is striking. They welcome corporate involvement with open arms, not only encouraging companies to be involved in issues Consumer Perspectives: Insights into Actionoutside their manufacturing walls, but ready and excited to join those efforts.

Consider these findings from our recent 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study:

Nearly all consumers in Brazil, China and India state they are more likely to have a positive image, trust and be loyal to companies that engage in CSR. More so than other countries examined in our research, including most of the G7, citizens in these emerging markets are walking their talk.

Further, Brazilian, Chinese and Indian consumers are far more likely than their global peers to not only say they would get involved with corporate efforts, from educating themselves on corporate behavior to volunteering, but to actually do so:

  • Bought a product with a social/environmental benefit:
    • Brazil: 79%
    • China: 86%
    • India: 88%
    • Global average: 67%
  • Researched a company’s business practices or support of social and environmental issues:
    • Brazil: 52%
    • China: 43%
    • India: 56%
    • Global average: 34%
  • Donated:
    • Brazil: 65%
    • China: 69%
    • India: 67%
    • Global average: 60%
  • Volunteered:
    • Brazil: 46%
    • China: 45%
    • India: 48%
    • Global average: 37%

Consumers in Brazil, China and India Demand Responsibility

These consumers are trumpeting CSR through their personal networks as well, and nowhere more than in social media. But they’re not just talking amongst themselves – they’re raising their voices directly to companies.

social media engagementNearly two-thirds (62 percent) of global consumers report using social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues – but the majority of that usage is happening in these highly mobile-savvy countries:

  • Told friends or family about a company’s CSR efforts:
    • Brazil: 64%
    • China: 75%
    • India: 77%
    • Global average: 50%

  • Use social media to engage with companies around CSR efforts:
    • Brazil: 85%
    • China: 90%
    • India: 89%
    • Global average: 62%

But companies be warned – this enthusiasm can just as quickly work against you. Consumers in emerging markets are not shy about calling out bad behavior, boycotting or sharing negative information with friends and family – meaning these potential brand advocates can also be powerful adversaries. In the past year alone, these citizens say they have:

  • Boycotted a company’s products/services upon learning it behaved irresponsibly
    • Brazil 69%
    • China 84%
    • India 65%
    • Global average: 55%

  • Shared negative information about companies CSR practices via social media
    • Brazil 35%
    • China 49%
    • India 35%
    • Global average: 26%

The tremendous gusto with which consumers in Brazil, China and India not only engage in but propagate CSR issues and efforts is at least in large part a result of a remarkable sense of personal social media and consumerismempowerment. More so than other markets, citizens in these countries possess a keen sense of their own ability to drive change and positively influence corporate behavior.

Belief in individual impact varies by market, with emerging countries such as Brazil (57 percent) and India (52 percent) indicating a strong conviction of substantial personal impact through purchasing, versus only 14 percent in the U.K.

Turning Insights into Action: Harnessing the Emerging Opportunity

Emerging markets represent the greatest CSR opportunity for companies because of their vibrant and avid consumers. Not only are these citizens ready for companies to play leading roles in critical issues – they’re ready to work with companies to bring about positive change. So where to begin?

  • Leverage CSR to Differentiate: If your company is already established in these markets, look to your CSR efforts to serve as a powerful brand differentiator. More than offering a license to operate, authentic CSR engagement will build your reputation and almost certainly drive sales.
  • Give Them a Job: These consumers are ready to work – so give them a job. Adept communicators, they will influence their personal networks for or against companies. Give them the information they need and a tangible call-to-action to make sure their influence works in your favor.
  • Demonstrate Return: Reward their teamwork by clearly articulating how they’re personally making a difference, as well as your collective impact. Failure to define return on engagement may convert your advocates into adversaries.
  • Get Social: The importance of social media in these markets cannot be emphasized enough. Consumers are using these channels not only to communicate with friends and family about CSR issues but also to call out corporate behavior and rally for change. Ensure social media is a core part of your communications and engagement strategy, and watch it closely for any rising issues.

Next: As many communities around the world struggle to recover from natural disasters, what do consumers expect from corporations?  

About the Author:

As executive vice president of Cone CommunicationsResearch & Insights group, Alison tracks and identifies trends to keep clients on the leading edge within the rapidly evolving landscape of CSR. She loves to fill the information gaps with proprietary research on stakeholder expectations, attitudes and behaviors with corporate CSR efforts. During her 15 year tenure at Cone, Alison has led the development of more than 35 studies, including: 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study, 2013 Cone Communications Green Gap Trend Tracker, 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker, 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, and the Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100.

Alison has also served as strategic counsel for several key accounts, such as NARS Cosmetics, Neiman Marcus, Walgreens, Target, American Cancer Society and Deloitte. To further keep Cone on the pulse of the industry, Alison serves as a regular contact for the media and a speaker at many leading conferences.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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