جمع آوری پاداش های رابطه از مسئولیت اجتماعی شرکت ها: نقش موقعیت رقابتی
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی||تعداد کلمات|
|27058||2007||18 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید||محاسبه نشده|
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : International Journal of Research in Marketing, Volume 24, Issue 3, September 2007, Pages 224–241
This research examines the moderating influence of the extent to which a brand's social initiatives are integrated into its competitive positioning (i.e., a CSR positioning) on consumer reactions to CSR. We find that positive CSR beliefs held by consumers are associated not only with greater purchase likelihood but also with longer-term loyalty and advocacy behaviors. More importantly, we find that not all CSR initiatives are created equal: a brand that positions itself on CSR, integrating its CSR strategy with its core business strategy, is more likely than brands that merely engage in CSR to reap a range of CSR-specific benefits in the consumer domain.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is at the forefront of corporate consciousness today. As the CSR debate shifts from “whether” to “how,” companies are embracing socially responsible ventures with unprecedented gusto (e.g., KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting, 2005). Moral imperatives aside, this increasing commitment to CSR is spurred, at least in part, by the growing sense that consumers, a key stakeholder group, reward good corporate citizens through greater, more sustained patronage (Cone Corporate Citizenship Study, 2004, Lichtenstein et al., 2004 and Luo and Bhattacharya, 2006). Indeed, both marketplace polls (Cone Corporate Citizenship Study, 2004) and a growing body of primarily experimental studies (e.g., Brown and Dacin, 1997, Klein and Dawar, 2004, Sen and Bhattacharya, 2001 and Sen et al., 2006) have demonstrated that, assuming all else is constant, consumers are more likely to purchase from companies that engage in CSR actions, particularly in domains that consumers deem appropriate (e.g., a high degree of fit between the company and the CSR cause) and personally relevant. Importantly, however, little is constant in the real marketplace. For instance, consumers' CSR-related reactions to a company/brand are determined not only by its actions in this domain, but also by those of its stakeholder groups (e.g., activists, the media), which are typically beyond the company's control (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003 and Brown et al., 1997). Thus, there is a need for CSR research to move beyond the often rarefied, controlled empirical contexts to paint a more externally valid picture of the forces determining consumer reactions to CSR initiatives. One such force is the competitive context in which a company's CSR strategy is viewed by consumers. Given the widespread prevalence of CSR in today's marketplace, effective CSR strategies need to take into account the competitive context in which a particular set of CSR actions are likely to be enacted. In other words, much as the competitive context impacts the marketing mix, a company, in formulating its CSR strategy, needs to understand how consumers perceive and react to its CSR actions not in isolation but in the context of different CSR actions, if any, taken by its competitors (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004). A key element of the competitive context is the relative positioning of each brand along the CSR dimension. Brands vary in the extent to which they rely on their CSR activities to position themselves, relative to their competitors, in the minds of consumers. More specifically, while many brands affiliate themselves with causes, some, such as Stonyfield Farm, Body Shop, and Ben and Jerry's, go beyond just engaging in CSR to position themselves wholly in terms of CSR, becoming known as the socially responsible brand (i.e., the CSR brand) in a category. For example, in the US supermarket category, the Whole Foods Market, positioned on CSR, espouses the core value of “caring about our communities and our environment.” Moreover, this value pervades virtually every aspect of its business, from organic and sustainable sourcing to environmentally-sensitive retailing, from devoting at least 5% of its annual profits to a variety of causes to encouraging community service among its employees on company time. Such a positioning has contributed to the company's extraordinary success, creating consumers who act as “ambassadors” for the company (Springer, 2006). The CSR brand in the footwear category, Timberland, has integrated a similar set of CSR principles into every aspect of its business (e.g., environmental consciousness, fair and humane labor practices). Since 2005, every Timberland product bears a “nutritional label,” informing consumers of its environmental and community impact. Such an integrated CSR approach has resulted in, not only the company's number six ranking on Business Ethics' 100 Best Corporate Citizens in 2006, but also the unwavering loyalty of its consumers ( Gillentine, 2006). Notably, the need to understand the unexamined role of CSR positioning in consumer reactions to a company's CSR actions is underscored by the unique nature of such a positioning strategy compared to those along more conventional dimensions such as operational excellence, product innovativeness, or customer intimacy. This is because it is a company's actions in the CSR domain, as opposed to other, more product-related ones, that truly reveal its “values” (Turban & Greening, 1997), “soul” (Chappell, 1993), or “character” (Brown & Dacin, 1997), comprising the company's identity (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2003). Such a CSR-based identity is not only fundamental and relatively enduring, but also more distinctive than identities based on innovativeness and engineering expertise by virtue of its idiosyncratic bases (e.g., environmental stewardship, sponsorship of social causes, fair labor policies). This, in turn, renders such an identity not only more memorable but also more anthropomorphic, enabling consumers to identify with it more readily than with others based on more conventional positioning strategies. In other words, unlike other positioning strategies, CSR positioning humanizes a company or brand, encouraging consumers to not just like, respect or admire the company but actually identify with it (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2003). In turn, the benefits of such identification to the brand are strong, numerous and enduring (Bergami and Bagozzi, 2000, Lichtenstein et al., 2004 and Sen and Bhattacharya, 2001). Specifically, these go beyond the transactional benefits to the company (i.e., sales) of any consistent, coherent positioning to the rarer, longer-term relational benefits such as loyalty and advocacy (e.g., positive word-of-mouth, resilience to negative brand information), which prior research (Hoeffler and Keller, 2002, Klein and Dawar, 2004 and Sen et al., 2006) suggests may be the primary payback of CSR. This research contributes to our extant understanding of the strategic benefits of CSR by providing insight into its transactional and relational outcomes in a real-world, competitive context. Specifically, we build on the field study conducted by Sen et al. (2006) to examine the role played by the competitive positioning of three major brands of yogurt in both the formation of consumers' CSR beliefs (i.e., beliefs that a company/brand2 is socially responsible) about these brands, as well as the extent to which these beliefs are linked to both brand choice (i.e., transactional outcomes) and the set of longer-term brand advocacy behaviors, such as positive word-of-mouth and resilience to negative brand information (i.e., relational outcomes). Our findings suggest that several advantages accrue to a brand that is positioned on CSR over those that, while engaging in CSR, are positioned on other traditional, product specific dimensions such as quality. Consumers are not only more aware of what the CSR brand is doing in terms of social initiatives but also make more favorable inferences about why the brand is doing so. This not only is reflected, as expected, in stronger beliefs that the brand is socially responsible but can also spill over, positively, to consumers' beliefs about the brand's performance on dimensions unrelated to CSR (e.g., beliefs about corporate ability; Brown & Dacin, 1997). In turn, consumers' CSR beliefs regarding the CSR brand are linked more strongly to coveted relational outcomes such as brand loyalty and advocacy. Interestingly, however, such competitive effects are not obtained for the basic transactional outcome (i.e., purchase). By demonstrating these differences, we attempt to establish the boundary conditions of extant CSR findings, obtained primarily from experimental investigations (e.g., Brown and Dacin, 1997, Klein and Dawar, 2004 and Sen and Bhattacharya, 2001), in an externally valid setting. Next, we draw upon relevant literatures to propose a set of predictions regarding the determinants and outcomes of consumers' CSR beliefs in a competitive context. We then present a field study that tests our predictions. We conclude with a discussion of our findings.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
This research taps into the CSR-related thoughts, feelings and behaviors of consumers in the real marketplace to implicate a brand's competitive positioning on CSR as a key determinant of consumers' reactions to its CSR initiatives. Overall, the findings (Table 2) suggest that the market-based benefits of brand-specific CSR initiatives vary depending on the extent to which such initiatives are an integral part of the brand's positioning relative to its competitors. Several implications follow from our study findings. 3.1. The role of CSR positioning Virtually all prior CSR research in the consumer domain has focused on a single brand or company. By documenting brand-specific differences in consumers' reactions to CSR, this paper identifies an important moderator of such reactions in the real marketplace, where more and more companies are engaging in some form of CSR but with varying degrees of integration with their core competencies. Our findings suggest that the same CSR actions may elicit different reactions from consumers depending on the extent to which these are viewed as isolated endeavors vs. the very basis of the brand. In particular, we demonstrate three ways in which the strategic rewards of CSR for a brand that successfully positions itself along this dimension are greater than for those that merely engage in CSR, even when such engagement is known and liked (e.g., Yoplait's fight against breast cancer). First, consumers tend to have more favorable beliefs, make more charitable attributions and, consequently, reward CSR brands to a greater extent in terms of relational behaviors such as loyalty and advocacy. Second and perhaps more interesting, we observe that consumers are more responsive or sensitive to their CSR beliefs about a CSR brand in that an increase in consumers' favorable CSR beliefs is associated with greater incremental dividends in terms of loyalty and advocacy behaviors for such a brand than for its competitors. Finally, CSR brands benefit from a stronger spillover from their CSR actions to CA beliefs suggesting that perceptions of mainstream attributes such as quality and value can be favorably influenced to a greater extent when social responsibility is an integral aspect of what the brand represents to consumers. Notably, our findings also provide some support for the uniqueness of CSR as a positioning strategy in garnering these customer-driven benefits. Compared to the CSR brand in our study, Stonyfield, the CA-positioned brand, Dannon, not only reaps fewer rewards from its CSR activities but also does not appear to reap additional CA-based advantages. Specifically, our brand-specific analysis of the relationship of consumers' CA beliefs to key relational outcomes such as identification and advocacy (Table 7, models 13, 14, and 15) suggests that compared to CSR positioning (i.e., Stonyfield), CA positioning (i.e., Dannon) does not provide significant incremental returns to identification, advocacy or loyalty. In other words, consistent with our expectation, because a CSR positioning truly reveals the fundamental values, or character of a brand, it is more unequivocally associated with the coveted deeper, more long-term relationships with consumers than other CA-based positioning strategies such as product leadership. While a more thorough contrast of specific positioning strategies awaits further investigation, our findings complement research on customer-company identification (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003 and Lichtenstein et al., 2004) that highlights the potential relational benefits of an identity-revealing CSR focus. 3.2. Relational vs. transactional benefits of CSR Our findings point to the primacy of company-specific long-term relational behaviors, such as brand loyalty and advocacy, over the transactional behavior of product purchase as the basic strategic dividend of CSR. Specifically, while we find that CSR beliefs are indeed positively associated with higher purchase levels, the advantages accruing to the CSR brand, Stonyfield, are in the relational domain and not the transactional one (i.e., purchase). This suggests that CSR positioning is less a short-term sales generating mechanism as it is one that deepens customer relationships over time, creating brand advocates or champions. In other words, companies interested in using CSR to increase sales may need to be less concerned with their CSR-related positioning as might companies that are interested in broader, deeper and longer-term consumer responses. In that sense, this research suggests that the real value of a CSR positioning may stem from its contribution to a company/brand's long-term reputational capital. For such brands, CSR may be more like a long-term “insurance policy that is there when you need it (Klein & Dawar, 2004, page 215)” rather than one that just contributes to profitability. More generally, the finding that CSR initiatives, particularly when part of a brand's positioning, have the potential to transform consumers into long-term advocates of the brand has important implications for relationship marketing. Despite heavy investments in customer relationship management, the relationships between companies and consumers continue to be troubled (e.g., Dowling, 2002). For instance, Fournier, Dobscha, and Mick (1998) observed that relationship marketing, as it is currently practiced, has, instead of bringing customers closer to companies, driven them farther apart. They thus exhort companies to build relationships that are not “empty, meaningless, or stressful.” Our findings suggest that CSR might be one such way to build meaningful, long-term relationships: it satisfies consumers' essential self-definitional and self-enhancement needs, turning them from mere buyers of a brand into its champions. Relatedly, recent research suggests that the maximization of customer equity (Rust, Lemon, & Zeithaml, 2004), defined as the sum of lifetime values of all of a firm's customers, across all the firm's brands, may be a more meaningful strategic objective for a company than that of brand equity (i.e., the sum of customers' assessments of a brand's offerings above and beyond its objectively perceived value). To the extent that CSR promotes the relational outcomes examined in this paper, often at the company rather than the brand level, it is likely to be a key contributor to customer equity. Such a relationship is, in fact, suggested by Rust et al. (2004) in their conceptualization of the three determinants of customer equity (page 118). Specifically, they suggest that CSR contributes to brand equity, which along with value equity (i.e., objectively considered quality, price and convenience of the offering) and relationship equity (i.e., customers' switching costs from learning curves, user-community benefits and other considerations) determines customer equity. Our findings suggest that when a brand is positioned on CSR, its efforts in this domain may contribute to relationship equity as well, making it more difficult for customers to switch to competitors they do not feel as committed to. 3.3. Managerial implications 3.3.1. Positioning on CSR From a practitioner standpoint, CSR positioning may not be realistic in today's market, particularly for brands that target a broad segment of the population (e.g., the dominant brands in a category). However, it is interesting to note that brands that do so may also benefit in the CA domain, as is evidenced in the stronger spillover of CSR-related attributions and knowledge into CA for Stonyfield relative to its competitors. In this sense, even though CSR may position a brand more emotionally than cognitively (Mahajan & Wind, 2002) – going “straight to the heart” rather than providing a product solution or benefit that none of its competitors provide – such positioning may grant the brand a cognitive edge as well, enhancing consumers' beliefs regarding its ability to deliver key functional benefits. Thus, if and when CSR becomes a more prominent element of consumers' consciousness of the marketplace, marketers may do well to consider a CSR positioning if it makes sense based on factors such as product/market definition, competitive structure, product life cycle and consumer knowledge levels (Punj & Moon, 2002). 3.3.2. Communicating CSR For firms that do want to derive the most benefits from their CSR investments, our findings confirm the growing sense that while awareness of a brand's CSR initiatives is a key prerequisite for CSR beliefs, consumers' awareness of such initiatives outside of experimental contexts is rather low. In other words, CSR awareness, or the lack thereof, is a key stumbling block for companies looking to reap strategic benefits from their CSR initiatives (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004). This points to a key deficiency in most CSR strategies (i.e., the lack of effective communication); since minimal benefits are likely to accrue to companies if their target market is unaware of their CSR initiatives, they need to work harder to increase CSR awareness. Furthermore, our findings regarding the roles of intrinsic and extrinsic attributions in shaping CSR beliefs suggest that companies need to also “work smarter” in communicating their CSR initiatives, ensuring that consumers attribute such efforts to intrinsic (e.g., genuine concern) rather than extrinsic (e.g., profit motive) motivations. Interestingly, our findings suggest that when a brand is positioned on CSR, consumers are not only likely to be more aware of its activities, but also make more charitable attributions regarding the company's motivations. However, there is a potential downside as well: consumers' reactions to a CSR brand are also more sensitive to their attributions regarding its CSR actions. Thus, a CSR company has more to lose than its competitors if consumers attribute its involvement to extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivations. In sum, companies looking to be more strategic in their CSR decisions need to ask several key questions, such as: What do we want to achieve through our CSR efforts (i.e., sales vs. long-term reputation)? How do we differentiate our CSR initiatives from those of our competitors? How can we better integrate our CSR efforts with our core competencies? While most companies' CSR efforts are diffuse and unfocused (Porter & Kramer, 2002), our research suggests that from a consumer response standpoint, the best CSR strategies are those that are well integrated into a company's core business activities. As Smith (2003) said, developing the right CSR strategy requires an understanding of what differentiates an organization–its mission, values, and core business activities – from its competitors. The presence of strongly held, favorably evaluated CSR beliefs that are unique to the brand is critical to the success of a CSR strategy. 3.4. Limitations and future research directions Our study has several limitations. First, it does not allow us to establish causal links between the focal constructs. While some of the theoretical links such as the one between CSR beliefs and identification have been supported in prior experimental research, other links, like the relationship between CSR beliefs and consumer advocacy, need corroboration in future experimental studies that control for confounds and alternative explanations. Second, although our common-method variance test indicates that common-method bias is not a problem in our study, future research should obtain data on consumers' actual behaviors (i.e., purchase, actual word-of-mouth, actual supportive behaviors during periods of negative media reports, etc.) rather than self-reported behaviors or behavioral intentions, allowing us to examine the effects of CSR on actual consumer advocacy behaviors. More generally, our study was conducted in a category where most brands engage in some form of CSR. The generalizability of our findings is contingent on validation of our findings in product categories with greater CSR diversity. This study also gives rise to a number of future research opportunities. First, a central theme from this study is the potential of CSR initiatives to build strong consumer relationships and generate relational consumer behaviors. Given the growing prominence of CSR on the corporate agenda and the emphasis on marketing productivity, a notable stream of additional research would be to examine the returns on CSR investment. One fruitful avenue for doing so might lie in using Rust et al.'s (2004) customer equity framework. More specifically, our study established a moderating role of competitive positioning, but did not delve into its underlying mechanisms. Further research on when and why CSR brands are likely to reap disproportionate rewards from their CSR activities is extremely germane. Future research needs to also focus on how our findings play out with brands (Camel, Wal-Mart) or categories (e.g., gasoline, cigarettes, fast food) that are increasingly viewed as “bad citizens.”