Not only has 2020 brought many changes to the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s also changed the way that businesses define their mission and values — how they approach corporate social responsibility — to customers. No longer can a brand afford to sit on the sidelines during a crisis or cultural event. Customers are interested in knowing where a brand they do business with stands in regards to social engagement, community involvement, racism, and societal norms.
Many large brands have made public commitments to join the fight against racism and police brutality. In late August of 2020, Uber sent all of its customers an email celebrating the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington. Uber reminded those marching on the anniversary date that Uber stands with them, and issued a statement that said “We stand against racism. In July, we announced several long-term commitments to becoming an anti-racist company. Among these commitments is a responsibility to help create a community that treats everyone equally and with dignity.” Uber is a company that recognizes the value of CSR, values and commitment.
Last year areport from GlobalWebIndex revealed that 68% of online consumers in the United States and the United Kingdom would consider not using a brand because of poor or misleading corporate social responsibility and nearly 50% would pay a premium for brands with a positive socially conscious image. The emotional connection consumers make with a brand largely comes from how they perceive that brand in conjunction with their own beliefs and values.
Mike Wittenstein, founder and managing partner at Storyminers, spoke with CMSWire about corporate culture and how it affects customer loyalty. Wittenstein recognizes that it’s human nature to prefer to be around people that share one’s values. “In general, people like to do business with people (and companies) that share their values. For a few years now, there’s been talk of ‘Glass Box Brands.’ This refers to the idea that people (B2C and B2B) select the brands that serve them in part by how they treat people on the inside,” Wittenstein explained.
The concept and nature of corporate or brand culture extends to every industry. Wittenstein said that “In the fashion and grocery worlds, we’re seeing a move toward fair trade. Among quick-service restaurants (the fast food sector), customers are responding positively to companies that use some of their sales income to better educate their employees. Chick-fil-A in Atlanta is well known for sending thousands of kids to college and bringing some back to corporate. Others have similar programs.”
The ramifications of immoral or negligent corporate culture are long-lasting — consumers have long memories. Wittenstein understands that just as a positive business culture can increase customer loyalty, when business and customer values do not align, it can have devastating effects. “Companies that suffer from executive-level scandals involving dishonesty and poor moral decisions (both failures to set good examples for other employees) notice more quickly than ever before a flight away from the brand. These snap decisions by customers happen to be long-lasting. It’s quite difficult to win these customers back,” Wittenstein reiterated.
Customers interact with a brand through the company website, social media, customer service, interactions with employees, and all of those interactions play a role in defining the brand. Additionally, a brand’s mission statement, company culture and how it relates to its employees help to define a brand. In our hyper-aware culture, customers are able to see the culture of a brand all around them — at home, in the community, and on social media. Not only that, but customers that are not aligned with a brand’s values will speak out against it. A report from Accenture on “purpose-led brands” indicated that 48% of U.S. consumers that are disappointed by a brand’s actions or message on a social issue will complain about it. There is no hiding from corporate social responsibility, and it remains a key element in the road to customer loyalty.