Ipsos Corporate Reputation

is society so polarised at the moment that companies need to pick a side in order to thrive?

In our last Reputation Council report, we saw that more than half (56%) of members believe that their consumers now expect them to take a stand on socio-political issues. These stances should be firmly rooted in the company’s purpose, values and behaviour.

By contrast, in this wave, seven out of ten Council members say that picking a particular side – in a world that’s increasingly polarised and confrontational – is probably a step too far. To do so, businesses would, in most cases, risk alienating significant proportions of their customers or stakeholders. Even for the one in four members who agree with picking a side, this very much depends on the specific issue at hand.

"That is a very dangerous route to go down… It was a very courageous move for Nike to take a stance in their latest campaign. Most companies do not thrive if they put two fingers up to a significant proportion of their potential customer base."

Is CSR dead?

Reports of CSR’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Better to say that in many Council members’ businesses, it has matured from simple corporate philanthropy into something more integrated, rigorous and genuinely aligned with the company’s purpose.

"So whatever you call it, the actions still need to be there. Where it is moving to is more formality and more measurement and more scrutiny, so you can’t fluff that any longer with a bit of money to a good cause. You need to take it seriously, you need to show progress and, again, you need to do it long-term and aligned to what you do as an organisation. You can’t sugarcoat the issues you might have."

Will consumers ignore poor corporate behaviour as long as they get products that are good and cheap?

Council members recognise that our self-interest will often trump reputational concerns about the company we’re buying from – “people want good stuff and they are willing to put up with a little bad behaviour in order to get that.”

But members also see a growing trend, especially among activist millennials and Gen Z, and driven by ever-more available information, to factor a company’s reputation into their purchase decisions. For these consumers, is good corporate citizenship now a basic hygiene factor, rather than a differentiator?

"We believe that consumers more and more expect certain behaviours from a company and they even want to be able to buy products so that they can contribute to a better society. So the products need to enable them to contribute to a better society. Not all consumers and not everyone, but a growing number of consumers."

Methodology: 154 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between 25th June and 12th November 2018.

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