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Caveat Emptor: Research Results can lead you Astray

In August 2011 a Nielsen conducted an online survey of more than 28,000 online respondents from 56 countries around the world. The survey  provide d insights to help marketers better understand the right audience for cause marketing activities, which programs resonate most strongly with this audience, and what marketing methods may be most effective in reaching these consumers. You can find the Full report here (you’ll have to provide some information to access the total report).

The survey confirmed that the majority of consumers express a general preference for companies making a positive difference in the world. 66% of consumers around the world say they prefer to buy products and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society. That preference extends to other matters as well. They prefer to work for or invest in these companies. A smaller share, but still nearly half, says they are willing to pay extra for products and services from these socially conscious companies.

According to the survey, 63% of socially conscious consumers are under the age of 40, compared to 55% of all respondents. The survey shows that younger consumers are more likely to spend extra for products and services from socially responsible companies. 51% of all respondents aged 15 to 39 are willing to pay extra for such products and services compared to 37% of all respondents over age 40.

And, here’s the rub – it was an online survey. Although the preponderance of web surfers is younger, the over forty online populations are growing in leaps and bounds.  But, not enough to capture realistically the socially conscious sentiments of many older populations that do not, comparatively speaking, spend a significant amount of time on the internet.

The survey findings on cause marketing efforts don’t tell the entire story.  The takeaway could be that older customers aren’t as interested in supporting companies that are sincere in supporting legitimate causes. But, research confirms that as we age we become even more “green” and we like to do business with and trust those companies that give back.

Moreover, the survey results also show that consumers have grown increasingly sensitive to “greenwashing,” the idea that a brand will artificially inflate its environmental or even social investments to attract customers. Older customers are even more sensitive to “greenwashing.” Their life experience helps them to identify readily those that aren’t sincere.

When it comes to advertising and recommendations, the report says, socially conscious consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while also looking for opinions and information posted by other consumers online, slightly more so than the global online survey average. This quality doesn’t subside as we age, it becomes more prevalent.  So, assuming we become even more socially conscious consumers as we age, companies that have an authentic mission to contribute to local and national causes should not discount the significant trust benefit from boomer and older customers (comprising markets worth more than $2 Trillion).

Socially-conscious consumers are more likely than consumers overall to trust ads found on social networks and they were also more likely than total respondents (59% vs. 46%) to say they use social media when making a purchase decision.

Not all consumers expect companies to care about social responsibility, but those that do can be segmented and understood in ways that allow brands to engage in cause marketing which appeals to the right consumers, with the right causes and through the right marketing channels, concludes the report.


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