Corporate Social Responsibility Matters: Ignore Millennials at Your Peril

by Ryan Rudominer

It is no secret that companies must be responsive to customer demands and expectations if they want to survive.

Consumers expect more than ever from the brands they buy — and increasingly are rewarding companies whose services and products are both good for them and good for society.

In its 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report, Nielson found that “66% of global consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands — up 55% from 2014.” It also found that 73% of global Millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings — up from 50% in 2014.

Businesses must adapt to the times as consumers are voting with their wallets and Millennials, in particular, are demanding that companies put their money where their mouth is.

Millennials make up the fastest growing force in the marketplace. Numbering more than 80 million strong, Millennials already account for an estimated $1 trillion of U.S. current consumer spending. This sum will continue to grow exponentially as more Millennials reach peak buying power.

Millennials represent the consumer market of the future, and it behooves corporations to read the tea leaves.

In a study by Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse, “81 percent of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.”

By almost any measure, Millennials place a premium on corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.

According to the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study, “More than nine-in-10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause (91% vs. 85% U.S. average), and two-thirds use social media to engage around CSR (66% vs. 53% U.S. average).”

The study also finds that “Millennials say they are prepared to make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about, whether that’s paying more for a product (70 percent vs. 66 percent US average), sharing products rather than buying (66 percent vs. 56 percent) or taking a pay cut to work for a responsible company (62 percent vs. 56 percent).”

Traditional advertising will not work with Millennials.

Conveying CSR efforts to Millennials requires authenticity, and a unique approach as Millennials grew up with the Internet and want their voices heard. They expect a two-way, open dialogue with companies and their brands.

Brands can bring their CSR efforts to life through authentic storytelling. Millennials want to know what companies are doing to make the world a better place.

CSR can build brand loyalty, raise awareness, and strengthen reputations, or it can have the opposite effect.

Honesty is key.

Inherently skeptical, Millennials will punish companies on social media not deemed to be fully transparent as well as those that pay lip service to CSR and causes important to them.

The bottom line is that the corporate world cannot ignore the demands and expectations of Millennials, who are devout in their desire to associate with companies aligned with their values.

Businesses that under-appreciate the need for CSR do so at their peril.

Ryan Rudominer is a principal at R2 Strategic Consulting where he specializes in strategic communications, advocacy, and media relations. For fifteen years, Rudominer has operated on the front lines and behind the scenes of numerous communications campaigns, providing strategic counsel to public officials, corporations, trade associations, and non-profits. Rudominer’s lifelong passion is using communication to foster social change.