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Is CSR dead? Study shows 'Brand Citizenship' more important to consumers

Despite heavy investment in Corporate Social Responsibility, “feel good” initiatives don’t necessarily move perceptions of brands, shows a recent research study.

Despite heavy investment in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) over the last decade, these initiatives aren’t impacting people’s overall perceptions of brands, according to the latest proprietary CultureQ research from brand strategy consultancy Onesixtyfourth.

Anne Bahr Thompson, founder of Onesixtyfourth and CultureQ research, says, "People are telling us that corporate responsibility begins with helping ‘me,’ the individual consumer, before it expands outward into CSR-like initiatives. For it to be meaningful, corporate citizenship should first integrate the values that are important to people in their daily lives. After that is done, a corporation should connect people to something bigger than themselves—their communities, their country, people across the world, and the planet. That’s what we call Brand Citizenship."

Citing findings from the “Brands: The New Social Reformers” report, Thompson notes that people in the U.S. are much more focused on corporate behaviors like treating employees fairly, being honest about product claims, offering reliable service and durable products, saving resources, and making affordable products than they are on big-budget CSR initiatives. Some CultureQ participants, especially Millennials, even believe corporations view CSR as a zero-sum game, a way to right other wrongs rather than a way to contribute.

"Our findings don’t mean that people are selfish, however,” says Thompson. “While Brand Citizenship begins with making the consumer’s life easier and helping them to manage their day-to-day life more effectively, it then spans out to be about personal enrichment and fulfillment through positive contribution to society and humanity."

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