Catherine Blades, SVP, Corporate Communications, Aflac Incorporated.
As readers of these pages know, Ethisphere has a rich history of demonstrating how ethical companies, and in particular those who hold a coveted spot on their World’s Most Ethical Companies® list, tend to succeed not only in matters of good conscience, but also when it comes to good business. And, in fact, on average, companies on the World’s Most Ethical list reap an average excess return exceeding the MCSI all-weighted index of public companies over the last eight years.
Piggybacking on this notion, last September Aflac initiated its first study on CSR (ACSR) and how it impacts consumer and investor decision making. As it turns out, consumers overwhelmingly (79 percent) believe that companies that stay true to their ethics and values outperform others in their field. For millennials, that percentage jumps to 81 percent.
Okay, so that in and of itself is not news. But it goes beyond just looking at ethics. It’s about consistency.
The ACSR study reveals that more than four out of five respondents (81 percent) are more inclined to buy from a company whose philanthropic work is done consistently and year-round with a cause that is relevant to their business, rather than those acting only in times of need. That is news because it tells us that effective CSR for a business or corporation cannot be an ad hoc proposition and be successful in the eyes of consumers and investors. It must be a sustained ideology backed up by ongoing and frequent action.
Consumers expect corporations to earn their business in large part by acting as good corporate citizens, not only in times of crisis, but through their daily efforts. For the publicly traded companies, consider this: 69 percent of consumers are likely to purchase stock in a company well known for its ethical standards.
This desire to work for, do business with, or invest in companies that do good things for the community is strongest with millennials, who have counterintuitively gained a reputation as being, in the overwhelmingly documented words of social scientists and behavioral experts who study demographics and trends, dare we say—self-absorbed. However, in their eyes, social media has given consumers a voice they once did not have, and they make that voice heard often, especially when companies do the right thing, and candidly, just as loudly, when they don’t. In fact, Aflac found that more than half (51 percent) of millennials link growth of corporate social giving to social media use.
The impact of social media is unfettered access to limitless information, which ultimately enables consumers, particularly the younger and more media-savvy ones, to be more informed than ever.
These are the highly engaged (digitally) who have no problem providing feedback to companies they believe are not behaving responsibly. They know the difference between a marketing ploy and authentic concern for the community.
Here is another interesting statistic that businesses should consider: While salary and flexible work schedules continue to be a heavy influence on where someone will want to work, more than three-quarters of millennials surveyed (82 percent) said they are likely to seek employment specifically at companies recognized for their ethics. So, while money still talks, ethics and CSR are certainly in the conversation like never before. Ignore this data at your own risk.
So, what should companies do? Well, start by adopting a cause that is important to the community and relevant to your business. It’s not just good business; it’s the right thing to do. That’s why Aflac has supported the fight against childhood cancer for 20 years and has donated more than $100 million for research and treatment at the Aflac Cancer Center in Atlanta. It is a good cause, and it is sustained and relevant to our business. And it’s the right thing to do.
As we mentioned earlier, consumers overwhelmingly favor companies that can demonstrate social responsibility. It’s no longer a box to check off on a survey form. Corporate social responsibility is required by today’s generations, and as the survey says, its importance is only going to grow.
Catherine Hernandez Blades is Senior Vice President Corporate Communications at Aflac Incorporated. Since joining Aflac, she has received national honors for reorganizing Aflac’s Corporate Communications team by unifying multiple functions and staff into a cohesive unit that works together on common goals and initiatives while becoming a world class corporate communications department with a focus on strong ethics and corporate social responsibility. In 2015, she led efforts to produce Aflac’s first-ever Corporate Social Responsibility survey, which established industry baselines in regard to consumer and investor behavior toward companies that demonstrate strong, sustained corporate social responsibility programs.
As Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Aflac Incorporated, Jon Sullivan plays a leadership role in planning and executing the FORTUNE 132 Company’s external communications and media relations. In 2015, he landed articles in USA Today, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes and MSNBC for C-Suite executives at Aflac, all within the span of three months. His placements helped create a new, powerful brand for several of Aflac’s key executives while accentuating the company’s robust diversity. In 2015, Jon played a key role in creating, executing and promoting Aflac’s first-ever Corporate Social Responsibility survey.