Millennials and Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility is no longer something companies are using to separate themselves from the crowd. It’s something they must now do to just keep up with the crowd. It’s no longer a marketing ploy, a public relations stunt, or a distraction from a company blunder.  It is in fact a movement, a radical change in mindset that is slowly integrating itself into all parts of the corporate sphere. Some companies are lagging, some are blazing new trails, but overall the trend continues- Businesses just have to be better (Cause Integration, 2010).

On Tuesday, I’ll be attending and speaking briefly at the annual Corporate and Community Social Responsibility Conference at Algonquin College in Ottawa.  It is the largest conference in Canada dedicated to corporate and community social responsibility.

Abacus Data partnered with the conference to conduct some research.  Last week we released results from a national survey that tried to measure whether Canadians shop and look for work with a socially responsible outlook.  The results were striking.

A large majority of Canadians (62%)  said that they would be willing to pay more for a product or service from a company that was socially responsible.  Moreover, a full 19% said they would be willing to pay more than $10 for a $100 product if it came from a socially responsible company.

What is perhaps most significant and telling for companies looking to expand profits and improve their reputation and brand image is the demographic trends.  Younger Canadians (18 to 39) and women were more likely to spend more.  On average, younger Canadians said they would spend $1,50 more on a $100 product than older Canadians.  Similarly, women seem to be more socially responsible in their purchasing behaviour than men.  Women said they would spend, on average, $10.11 on a $100 product if it was from a socially responsible company – more than $3 more than men.

These two consumer groups – the millennials and women – are a growing force in the market place.  As the purchasing power of baby boomers declines, the importance of my generation in deciding which brands and companies succeed and fail may depend on how socially responsible companies are.  Millennials demand that companies do more than just turn a profit – we want them to make a difference too.  My generation is changing the way consumer decisions are made and we paved the way for socially responsible purchasing.

A core part of a successful CSR strategy is communication.  Apart from the positive community benefits (which is and should be the primary goal of a CSR strategy), if consumers are unaware of what a corporation is doing to be socially responsible, there is little chance that consumer behaviour will be effected by the CSR strategy.

The millennial generation has been found to be more civic minded and team oriented.  Unlike Generation Xers who are more likely to focus on themselves, Millennials are aware of their surroundings and willing to participate to improve a community.  This probably explains why the millennial generation is the most willing to spend money on products and services produced by socially responsible companies.

Organizations seeking to communicate with this generation need effective and targeted communication strategies.  The first, and perhaps most important space for this communication is on the internet.  Research has found that the first place a millennial will go to find out about a company is online.  Moreover, millennials are intertwined on the internet.  Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, online news sources, or YouTube, most of the information we obtain is online.  If a company is not promoting its causes online and encouraging people to join in, then there is going to be little residual effect.