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Learned: Rise of the consumer

10/05/09 5:55PM By Andrea Learned
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(HOST) With all the news of struggles in this bad economy, commentator Andrea Learned sees a silver lining in the power consumers now have to force the issue of corporate social responsibility.

(LEARNED) According to a recent Time magazine article, brands can no longer get away with corporate misbehavior or presumptions about what consumers want or will put up with.  The artic

le called this new rise of the citizen consumer the responsibility revolution.  And in that revolution the demands we consumers now make include being able to put our money where our ideals are.     

It's the extent of the power consumers now have that floors me.  Today we can expect and buy products that are more to our sustainable predilections and that come from companies that treat their employees well.  And our influence can go even further.

The key point I took from the survey included in the article was that consumers are starting to look at provenance: where the products come from and how they get to the marketplace.  In fact, of the roughly 1000 adults polled, 82% said they'd supported a local business this year and nearly 40% said they'd purchased something in 2009 because they liked the social or political values of the company that produced it.
All this means the consuming public has really come a long way.  It was not that long ago that corporate responsibility was defined primarily in terms of the stockholder, and it was focused mainly on increasing profits.  These days, however, consumers have forced the corporate collective hand and now expect the brands they buy to reflect a triple bottom line of responsibility to profit, planet and people.  For example, since 1995, the number of what are called socially responsible investment mutual funds has grown from 55 to roughly 260.
How do we, as consumers, do this?  We all buy food, household goods and the occasional house or car for our families.  But that doesn't seem to add up to such influence.  Still, just as we have to believe that our individual votes count each election cycle, so too should we believe that the collective values of consumers can start to take hold one household at a time.              

With today's online access and technology advances, brands can hardly ignore the signs.   Bloggers and tweeters now form their own fear-inducing brigades of consumer advocacy.  One well-known and opinionated mommy blogger, in fact, recently took her service complaint online after repeated calls to Maytag didn't resolve a warranteed problem.  Within a day, if not hours, of telling her readers NOT to buy that brand of appliance, she got a call from the corporate office and all was resolved.  Imagine that!

It may be only a matter of time before consumers will as fervently demand and achieve change in areas beyond their direct product experience.  The way a company treats its employees and the environment are two broader corporate responsibilities already on that expanding list.
Corporations are truly being forced to pay attention. As the responsibility revolution grows, our ideals will acquire more definition and gain momentum. Consumer demands can make a real difference.

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