The majority of South Africans say they would prefer to buy products and services from companies that have a reputation for supporting good causes, according to new market research conducted by UCT Unilever Institute and research partner, Bateleur. The study explores consumer attitudes towards socially responsible business practice and corporate social investment (CSI).
According to the findings, CSI is being increasingly evaluated by consumers who have growing expectations about companies' commitment to good corporate citizenship. Seventy five percent of those polled said they would switch to a brand affiliated with a good cause - if price and quality were equal.
The researchers, however, preface their findings by pointing out that there are often discrepancies between consumer attitudes and behaviour in the area of CSI.
Professor John Simpson, director of the UCT Unilever Institute, believes that forward-thinking business people - and marketers in particular - should be pushing CSI to the top of their agendas. "CSI has far-reaching implications for brand sustainability. This is not just a trend, but one of the ways in which all successful businesses will conduct themselves in the future," maintains Simpson.
Simpson says successful companies realise that in today's highly competitive markets, where there is increasing parity in products and services, sincere and well-managed CSI has an impact on their bottom line. "Best practice in CSI not only differentiates companies' brands, but plays a crucial role in brand sustainability," says Simpson.
Role of BEE
The research findings also show there is an increasing understanding of the role of BEE as an important aspect of corporate social investment, with 52% of respondents saying they actively seek to buy from BEE companies.
Commenting on the research findings, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Polo Radebe believes corporate South Africa is responding positively to transformation. "There is a definite shift in what companies are looking at when it comes to BEE. Before they used to be looking at selling equity, but are now looking at other areas which are important in making sure we attain sustainable objectives," she says.
Radebe says that appropriate responses to CSI in the form of good BEE practices would not only benefit companies, but entire communities in terms of competitiveness. She added that companies that think globally understand the need for a proper skills development process because this contributes to a company's performance and ultimately to South Africa's global competitiveness. "The more skilled your labour is, the more competitive you are, the easier it is to get business opportunities in South Africa and outside South Africa," she explains.
The latest research will be released during a series of UCT Unilever Institute members meetings that will be held in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town on 24, 25 and 27 October 2006 respectively. For more information, go to www.unileverinstitute.co.za