If Consumers Care, Investors Follow

CEOs get the importance of corporate responsibility. At the recent Board of Boards CEO Conference in New York where heavyweight CEOs from around the world meet annually, the discussion on doing well by doing good was front and center. In an article on that meeting in Barron's, the attending author said,

"How the times have changed. Whether investors like it or not, this era’s consumers do care deeply that the products they purchase are both cheap and do no harm to the environment, or, better yet, positively contribute to the state of the world. A full 59% of the queried CEOs felt consumers were “demanding greater levels of transparency regarding their companies’ community engagement initiatives;” 69% claimed such efforts on their part were “rewarded by consumers.”

Because consumers care, investors should care. Fact is, when a company’s cool and progressive spirit—it’s intangible goodwill— is undermined by the firm’s community-damaging business practices, investors often wind up paying the price."

I was glad that CEOs noted that consumers care because that is what we found in our recent The Company Behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust. Consumers are no longer passive about the companies that make the products they buy. They care and do not like being surprised if they find that the product they adore is made by a company they detest.

At the meeting, CEOs were asked whether their company's community and social engagement was "rewarded" by its shareholders and I agree with the author that the response was positive. More than one-half (56%) believe shareholders reward firms for their corporate citizenship. And yes, we all know that it comes down to having the right metrics. It is awfully hard to pin down.

What is most interesting to me over the next 12 months is seeing how Apple's reputation fares as the Foxconn issue of employee mistreatment stays in the news. I believe that companies get just so many chances to soar above the damaging reputational news and then it reaches the tipping point where it surely matters. I often refer to the BP Effect. BP had three chances to make their reputation right -- the Texas City refinery episode, the Alaskan pipeline debacle and then the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The third one did them in.