This week, Martin talks with PRSA International Conference keynote speaker, June Cotte, associate professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario and the school’s George and Mary Turnbull Fellow.

Professor Cotte studies consumer behavioural and purchase issues, also the subject of her presentation, ‘When Will Consumers Pay to Be Good’.

Cotte and her colleagues conduct research on socially conscious consumption including recent experiments where consumers are exposed to certain purchase conditions and then asked to respond in order to determine how and why people behave the way they do and when they’ll pay more for ethically produced products.

In addition to paying a premium for ethically produced products, she found consumers will penalize brands by paying a lower price for goods when a company’s corporate behaviour is in question.  Consumer attitudes are cyclical and Cotte observed that ethical consumption was important in the ‘70s though less so in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  The current prevailing sentiment toward socially responsible behavior began to emerge again in the 2000s. She contends a cultural zeitgeist drives the change and that is where PR can come in, to explain the story and the benefits of an organization’s positive behaviour to consumers. This is especially important in an economic downturn where price becomes more of a consideration.

And because firms can get into trouble when they oversell a claim, communicators can help organizations strike a balance between explaining what they’re doing and the effect it has and help them deliver the story in the right tone.

It’s a fascinating study and you can hear more at the PRSA International Conference, October 13 to 16, 2012 in San Francisco.

Gini, Joe and Martin will also be at the conference and we look forward to meeting you there.


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