CSR trends that can make or break a brand

CSR trends that can make or break a brand

You know what CSR is, but here are three facts that you didn’t know: 

  • 68% of online consumers in the U.S. and UK would or might stop using a brand because of poor or misleading CSR. 
  • 84% say a poor environmental track record would or might cause them to stop buying from a brand.
  • Nearly half are willing to pay a premium for socially-conscious or environmentally-friendly brands.

With younger generations most aware of the impact of both their purchases and the brands they buy from, the pressure on brands to have a flawless reputation is set to increase as they move into higher-earning roles.

In light of the release of our latest report examining the role of corporate social responsibility in today’s ‘conscious consumerist’ landscape, here are some topline takeaways for brands.

Who are the biggest advocates of CSR?

Being able to identify the groups putting pressure on brands to be more responsible is key to knowing how to direct your messaging. 

Crucially, understanding of CSR varies depending on age. For example, there’s lower awareness among 16 to 24 year-olds, and it’s highest amongst 35 to 44 year-olds. 

One reason for this could be that ‘CSR’ is a business-speak term, and with the younger end of the 16 to 24 group unlikely to be working in the corporate world, it could be a lack of exposure to the term itself. 

Awareness of CSR is also strongest among high-income earners, supporting the idea that those in the working world have a greater understanding of the area.

Bearing this in mind, when framing the question differently, we reveal that younger consumers are, in fact, placing the most pressure on the brands they buy from to be responsible: 

43% of 16 to 24s who aren’t aware of what CSR is are willing to pay a premium for a brand that has a positive impact on the environment or society, compared to only 31% of 55–64s.

So younger consumers are perhaps the biggest advocates of what CSR represents, without a comprehensive understanding of the ‘ins out outs’ of the term. Brands must be careful not to mistake a lack of understanding for a lack of investment in the movement.

The big benefits of putting CSR front and center

CSR work, particularly for established brands, is often carried out as a secondary focus for a business.

But today we see more and more young brands building their business around a central message of positive societal or environmental change. This enables them to organically integrate CSR to build a compelling brand purpose. 

So CSR doesn’t have to come at a cost, in fact, there are two strong business cases for it: 

1. It builds brand loyalty.

We asked brand-loyal internet users in the U.S. and UK who would use the following statements to describe the brands they buy from. Here’s what they said: 

**Indexes are against all internet users in the U.S. and UK

Building a base of loyal customers is important for brands to achieve repeat business. The above chart shows that a considerable number of consumers who are most loyal to brands are so because of the good acts they do.

2. It can drive revenue up. 

Price has always been the main influencer in purchase decision-making. 

But our data reveals consumers are not only willing to buy more frequently from brands with a strong CSR message, they will also pay more for their products.

The number of consumers who would pay more for eco-friendly products has risen from 49% in 2011 to 57% in 2019.

This is especially high among 25 to 34 year-olds, regardless of the fact they’re not the age group with the most disposable income in the UK. 

This means that, over time, as younger consumers are gathering more spending power, CSR has the potential to redefine purchasing decisions. So much so that responsible consumption could overtake price as the most prevalent purchase driver. 

Some industries also have most to gain from the monetization of CSR: 

Chart showing which industries have the most potential to monetise CSR

Brands that build up a reputation for environmental good (both packaging and blockchain), social good, or transparency can see commercial gain. But it’s important they project the right message to maximize this.

The consequences of a weak CSR strategy

CSR isn’t just a way of avoiding negative press – it has to be done, and done well, or there could be negative consequences as we move deeper into the conscious consumerist movement. 

1. People may boycott your brand.

With consumers having more choice than ever over their purchases, it’s the job of brands to ensure they’re building loyal customers. And without trust and transparency, it’s hard to achieve this.

We’ve seen a number of brands lose customer support for woke washing or cover-ups. So it’s important to be aware of what factors alienate them most from a brand:

  • Poor environmental track record (84%)
  • Unsustainable packaging (83%)
  • Poor compliance record (82)
  • Irresponsible sourcing of materials (82%)
  • Poor human rights track record (82%)

Environmental shortcomings are the most prominent factors that could turn consumers away, with human rights issues following closely behind.

2. Your brand might be put under a spotlight.

Not all industries are under the same level of pressure from consumers to be more responsible. Whilst some have the spotlight firmly on them, other equally damaging industries have escaped the public eye somewhat.  

Here are the top 10 industries in need of better CSR policy according to U.S. and UK consumers:

1. Energy

2. Pharmaceutical

3. Food

4. Manufacturing

5. Transport

6. Fashion

7. Automotive 

8. Financial

9. Construction

10. Internet

One point of note is that fast fashion is one of the largest contributors to harmful industries, with water pollution, toxic chemical use, and textile waste just some of the costs to the environment. 

Despite this, only 43% of internet users think the fashion industry should hold itself more accountable for having a better CSR policy.

Nevertheless, for businesses at the top of this list, their reputations could be more at stake because of consumers’ hyper-sensitivity towards the sector as a whole. 

How brands should equip themselves for conscious consumerism

Conscious consumerism is here to stay, here are 5 key takeaways:

  1. The need for a strong CSR strategy is driven (amongst other things) by powerful consumer demand – mostly from younger generations. This is set to continue.

  3. Consumers will engage with brands that have a purpose they can get behind, especially relating to environmental and social change.


  4. Brands that get their strategy right will nurture a loyal customer base and be able to charge a premium for their products, both of which are positive business outcomes.

  6. Failing to place CSR front-and-center could result in consumers disengaging with certain brands, or a damaged reputation.

  8. Some sectors are more under public scrutiny than others, so those brands need to be more careful about their CSR efforts. This can also be leveraged for commercial benefit. Projecting genuine, strong messages of responsibility in the face of this aversion could place them at a greater advantage to competitors.

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