When it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and its effect on consumers, a few things are clear and supported by research. First, CSR can create a brand halo for a company. It makes consumers more likely to view the company as likeable and trustworthy. It might inspire brand loyalty. And if price and quality are considered comparable, a consumer might be more likely to choose a socially responsible company’s product over the competition.
But how does a company’s social responsibility affect how consumers actually view its products? Do consumers think the products are better if the company is invested in good causes? This has been a question with frustratingly few answers over the years. Some past research has suggested that the more active a company is in social responsibility, the more consumers might question product performance. For example: is that chemical-free counter cleaner from that tree-hugging corporation really going to work? Consumers may think not.
So it’s exciting that a new set of studies from Alexander Chernev and Sean Blair of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University tackle the specific issue of how CSR influences the way products are perceived. Their paper, “Doing Well by Doing Good: The Benevolent Halo of Social Goodwill” describes several studies that led to four conclusions by the researchers.
1) To consumers, good company = good product
The first big finding is that when consumers think a company is socially responsible, they are more inclined to view the product as better than others. The study described in the Chernev and Blair paper describes a winery that donated a portion of proceeds to charity. People who knew this act of good perceived the wine as superior. So CSR can enhance perceived product performance! But read on – it’s critical that it is the COMPANY, not necessarily the product, that be viewed as socially “good.”
2) Consumer mindset dictates when “good” matters
In research with a hypothetical running shoe, consumers were more likely to feel the product was better because of the company’s CSR if they were in an abstract rather than concrete mindset. The researchers got consumers to think abstractly by asking why they exercised. They got a separate group of people to think concretely by focusing them on how they exercise. When people were focused on the “why,” they were more influenced by the social good of the company. This finding is in line with fundraising research, which shows people are more generous when in an emotional mindset.
Stay tuned for the 2 other ways CSR can drive perceptions of your products!
Photo credit: http://www.douglascompanies.com/products/