New corporate social responsibility brand evaluation in a developing country: Uzbekistan
International Journal of Corporate Social Responsibility volume 7, Article number: 3 (2022)
Organizations strive to satisfy salient and unmet consumer needs by providing value through their products and services. If environmentally sustainable “green” brands successfully exist by addressing environmental issues in developed countries where environmental consciousness is high, there may be a potential for the existence of newly created CSR brands that aim to deliver socio-economic benefits in developing countries. We empirically tested the potential of a brand that offers socio-economic corporate social responsibility benefits in a developing country- Uzbekistan.
As Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in developing countries is a relatively new concept with little empirical research, this research examined the impact that brands with socio-economic CSR initiatives have on consumers’ purchase intentions. In addition, brands with socio-economic CSR initiatives were compared with brands with no CSR initiatives. Drawing on both marketing and psychological theories, we hypothesized that brands with socio-economic benefits would be received more favorably by consumers in developing countries where economic needs are more salient.
To empirically test the hypotheses, 397 Uzbekistan consumers responded to an online survey. The Brand Potential Index indicators were regressed on consumers’ purchase intentions to a brand with CSR socio-economic benefits and to a brand with no CSR benefits. Regarding the brand with socio-economic benefits, consumers’ perception of brand uniqueness, potential popularity, trust, empathy, and recommendation significantly predicted buying intentions. In contrast, only trust and recommendation significantly predicted buying intention for the brand that lacked socio-economic benefits. While both were significant, the relationship between the BPI indicators was stronger for the brand with socio-economic benefits (R2 = .63 versus .49, p < .001). Consumers were more willing to pay a price premium for the brand with socio-economic benefits even though they perceived such brands were of lower quality.
The results supported the potential of CSR brands in developing countries that focus on socio-economic benefits. This research adds value to our understanding of CSR in developing countries, and predictors of consumer purchase intentions using theory from both the marketing and psychological literature. Implications for brand management and future research are provided, including the need to target CSR initiatives that are salient to consumers.
Branding importance has exponentially increased as the subject matter has moved from an occasionally studied activity to a foremost concern for corporate and civil society (Swaminathan et al., 2020). Product features remain important, but branding strategies now concentrate on building socially responsible brands and creating value (Aslaksen et al., 2021; Golob & Podnar, 2019). In addition to product features and direct benefits, consumers showed interest in brands that also address societal concerns (Latapí Agudelo et al., 2019; Polonsky & Jevons, 2006). Several studies indicated that consumers choose socially responsible brands, other things being equal and that social responsibility plays a central role in brand differentiation (Hildebrand et al., 2011; Maignan et al., 2005). Brand management started taking social responsibility as a key ingredient in high growth markets (Abid et al., 2020). CSR is believed to help the brand to create a competitive advantage, enable brand differentiation, increase customer loyalty, as well as augment brand value (Bhattacharya et al., 2020; Golob & Podnar, 2019; Hur et al., 2014; Lee et al., 2012; Palazzo & Basu, 2007). Ramesh et al. (2019) recently proved that CSR initiatives strengthen brand image and attitude of consumers towards the brand. Nowadays, more and more practitioners consider social responsibility of a central brand differentiation policy (Hildebrand et al., 2011; Maignan et al., 2005). Consequently, changing consumer demands push brand managers to adopt initiatives that are aligned with the environmental, social well-being of the planet (Abid et al., 2020). Despite, the clear importance of CSR in brand management, and sustainability being a fundamental imperative for the world, the shortage of CSR research that considers the effect of CSR initiatives on consumer behavior in developing countries, necessitates further research (Cambra-Fierro et al., 2020). Moreover, CSR initiatives address a variety of issues salient to consumers, but what is salient to consumers may vary contingent on context (e.g., developed versus developing countries).
CSR emerged in developed countries (e.g., United States, Western Europe, and Australia) where environment protection, human rights and other global issues drew public attention. Governments and the public demanded greater accountability for increased carbon footprints and adverse climate change as factories polluted air and water, automobiles and airlines emissions increased, working conditions violated human rights law, and plastics filled the oceans and harmed sea life. Organizations implemented CSR initiatives to address these issues and developed “green brands” that provide environmental benefits or at least minimize environmental harm (Kazmi et al., 2021). Research supports the assertion that green brands add value (Panda et al., 2020; Symeonidou & Vagiona, 2018; Zaman et al., 2018).
However, Neff (2010) proposed that even though environmental awareness has increased, the purchase of green brands has declined in the United Kingdom following the 2008 economic crisis. Furthermore, Schneider et al. (2010) found that consumers tend to deemphasize environmental concerns in favor of socio-economic issues during economic downturns. These findings suggest that “green brands” have the highest potential in developed countries that enjoy favorable economic conditions (e.g., high per capita income and GDP) where environmental consciousness is high and where socio-economic issues are low. CSR research is predominantly conducted in developed countries that have extensive free market experience. However, the situation is different in developing countries.
As economic conditions are relatively unfavorable in developing countries, businesses strive to maximize profit, while paying less attention to environmentally oriented CSR initiatives (Okafor et al., 2008). The type of CSR depends on the unique social, economic, political, legal, and regulatory conditions of the country (Pohl & Tolhurst, 2010). Relative to their more developed counterparts, developing countries may experience greater political instability, weak regulatory systems, less rule of law and higher levels of corruption (World Governance Indicators, 2021). Under such conditions, companies may perceive CSR less in terms of environmental sustainability and more in terms of socio-economic issues that exist in the country (Amaeshi et al., 2006).
In Uzbekistan, CSR is perceived as corporate philanthropy (Смирнова, 2015). In a study among SMEs, Raimbaev (2009) found that internal motives drive company CSR initiatives (e.g., comply with community and religious norms). On the other hand, companies’ external motives include compliance with government programs and contributing through local communities. For example, British American Tobacco in Uzbekistan supports local communities by launching social investment projects (2021). Lukoil Uzbekistan, a large Uzbekistan oil company, does charity and sponsorship in sports, education, and culture related fields (2021). Alternatively, there are few companies that actively communicate environment or sustainability-oriented CSR initiatives (e.g., green products). Numerous companies have declared their commitment to corporate social responsibility; however, awareness of environmental issues is low among consumers in Uzbekistan (UNICE, 2020).
The low level of public environmental awareness does not incentivize companies to integrate environmental aspects into their CSR policies. Therefore, companies have little motivation to develop green brands. A better opportunity may rest with CSR efforts that stress societal and economic benefits. If green brands are successfully sold in developed countries where environmental issues are salient among consumers, then CSR initiatives that target socio-economic benefits may represent a new type of brand in developing countries where socio-economic issues are salient. As a result, our research tests the integration of CSR socio-economic benefits into brand values in Uzbekistan, a developing country. We propose that this new opportunity be labelled as Yellow Brand. We compared Yellow and Regular Brands. We define Regular Brands as brands whose positioning include functional and emotional benefits that directly meet consumer needs, not society. Yellow brand positioning also provides consumers functional benefits but the emotional benefit is realized through addressing socio-economic problems. Consumers experience emotional benefits by contributing to socio-economic causes. Our research uses concept testing, which is an important tool marketing method to predict future brand success. Concept studies typically contrast concepts, such as comparing different potential concepts or competitor brands. Moreover, developing countries have substantial socio-economic challenges that are exacerbated by disruptive events (e.g., a pandemic). Therefore, we believe that Yellow Brands may ameliorate the socio-economic conditions in developing countries.
Research gap and objectives
CSR research has been conducted predominantly in western and European developed countries, resulting in a need for understanding CSR in developing countries (Herbas Torrico et al., 2018; Orazalin, 2019; Pisani et al., 2017; Smirnova, 2012; Tilt, 2016). Moreover, CSR, and brand integration in the context of developing countries has not received adequate attention. The current research addresses this gap and aims to (1) increase CSR knowledge in developing countries (e.g., Uzbekistan), (2) evaluate a novel approach of integrating CSR and brand, (3) identify the impact of factors that influence Yellow Brand purchase intention, and (4) identify areas of competitive advantage of Yellow Brand compared to Regular brand in developing countries where socio-economic issues are addressed by brands. For the purposes of clarity, we used the terms Rational, Emotional and Action-Oriented.
Among the most difficult aspects of a new-brand creation process is identifying relevant consumer insights. In classical marketing practice, new brand ideas are based on insights in the form of consumer needs that feed into a future brand positioning. The concept is then tested on potential consumers to determine the brand potential. This research followed the Stimuli - Organism – Response theory (Mehrabian & Russell, 1974) that explored how a new Yellow Brand concept (stimuli) was perceived by consumers (organism) and how likely consumers would purchase the brand (response). We later justified the hypotheses. We begin with consumer insights and needs.
Consumer insights and needs
Moscato (2018) stated that “consumer insight goes beyond numbers to help companies understand consumer motivations and influences” (104). According to Deci and Ryan (2000), the foundation of human motivation can be thought of in terms of unsatisfied needs or problems. That is, unsatisfied needs motivate individuals to behave in ways that satisfy those needs. Therefore, “smart marketers understand their customers’ underlying desires - shaping their brand, messaging, and marketing to satisfy those desires “(Sullivan, 2019, p.4).
Among the earliest proposed a hierarchy of five needs within individuals: psychological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1943, 1954, 1971). According to this theory, individuals are motivated to satisfy basic needs such as food and shelter before building a network of friends or improving their self-esteem. Nevertheless, some research suggests that despite the income constraints, Bottom of the Pyramid consumer buying habits are more “sophisticated and creative” than suggested by Maslow (Subrahmanyan & Gomez-Arias, 2008). Consumers are motivated not only by survival and physiological needs but seek to simultaneously fulfil higher-order needs such as building social capital. Consequently, consumers in developing countries may aim to satisfy higher-order needs and purchase brands that are socially responsible. Subrahmanyan and Gomez-Arias (2008) also found that firms experience greater success when they offer products that meet higher-order needs such as access to education and better jobs. Moreover, after analyzing multinational enterprises’ (MNE) CSR communications in transitioning economics, Achyldurdyyeva et al. (2019) found that MNEs typically emphasize training and educational themes.
For initial concept testing purposes, we designed a hypothetical Yellow Brand that emphasized educational improvements. The Yellow Brand addresses the scarcity of online educational resources in the local language and meets self-esteem needs by supporting a CSR oriented brand that benefits the nation.
Brand positioning concept
Organizations spend a great deal of time and expense positioning their products to address consumer needs (Banović et al., 2016; De Pelsmaeker et al., 2015; Kumar, 2021). Sullivan (2019) described product positioning as first gaining consumer insights into expressed or latent needs and beliefs, presenting a product that possesses features that are perceived as beneficial, and lastly providing reasons to believe (RTB) that the product’s benefits are valid. Based on insight, brand benefits and RTB brand positioning concepts were written for concept testing purposes which provides a full reflection of potential brand positioning. In theory, concepts used for testing can vary from one-line sentences depicting key ideas (stripped description) to embellished descriptions which are written in a commercialized manner with a persuasive tone (Peng & Finn, 2008). The current study compares two brand concepts with embellished descriptions: Regular and Yellow. Each was presented to subjects using written descriptions of the insight, brand benefits as well as RTB. Moreover, the written concepts were supported by visual elements to improve understanding of potential brand positioning.
Tauber (1981, p. 169) described the general procedure of concept testing as “consumers are presented with a stimulus (concept) and measures of reaction are taken which the researcher believes are predictive of the behavioral response, such as later purchase”. In general, concept testing is an integral component of a larger marketing process that evolves from an idea, assessment of consumer attitudes towards the concept, and ultimately recommendations for potential release for commercialization (Bebko, 2017). Consequently, concept testing can be conducted through qualitative analysis to identify brand positioning improvements (e.g., focus groups) or quantitative research that evaluates numerically the brand potential (e.g., surveys) (García-Milon et al., 2019). In the current study, we have applied a quantitative method to provide empirical evidence regarding Yellow Brand feasibility.
Stimulus-organism-response (SOR) theory
Mehrabian and Russell (1974) first posited that consumers are exposed to many stimuli (S) related to products and services and develop emotional cognitions/responses based on the available information (O), and then act on those emotional responses (R). As reviewed by Zhu et al. (2020), the SOR concept has appeared in the marketing literature to study, among other things, buying intentions, buying decisions, and impulse buying. We applied SOR theory because the brand positioning concept serves as stimuli. The “organism” part refers to individuals’ perception, feelings, and thinking derived as a result of being exposed to stimuli (Bagozzi, 1986). Finally, consumers behave based on their intentions to purchase each brand. Figure 1 summarizes our research model.
The perceptions and attitudes consist of three facets: rational/cognitive, emotional/affective evaluation, and action-oriented/behavioral (Rahman et al., 2015). The cognitive element is the sum of what an individual knows and believes (Kim, Kim, & Kim, 2021, Rahman et al., 2015; Holbrook & Batra, 1987). Consumer cognitions may be categorized with respect to uniqueness, quality perception, and popularity (Vukasovic, 2009).
Perceived uniqueness helps differentiate brands and reduce consumer cognitive load (Dhar & Sherman, 1996), hence making purchasing decisions easier. In context with many CSR initiatives, differentiation is found to be more difficult (Nardi et al., 2021). In developing countries such as Uzbekistan where few companies implement CSR and few communicate their CSR initiatives, achieving perceived uniqueness is less difficult. Perception of brand uniqueness impacts purchase intention, as when Apple products are considered more unique than competitors and purchase intentions are higher. Therefore, Uniqueness is an important factor to consumers when judging the organizational CSR claim authenticity (Moehl & Friedman, 2021).
Perceived quality is a competitive advantage (Aaker, 1989). Several studies indicate that CSR can enhance product quality perception (Banerjee & Wathieu, 2017; Calaveras & Ganuza, 2018). Conversely, a study conducted by Robinson and Wood (2018) showed lower quality perception in firms with high CSR focus, as customers believed that product quality can suffer when companies overemphasize. However, in general, there is an empirically proven impact of perceived quality on the perceived value of the brand and purchase intention (Calvo-Porral & Lévy-Mangin, 2017).
Brand popularity refers to consumers’ belief that a brand will be attractive in the current market. Moreover, perceived brand popularity is an advertising cue that increases consumer attention and familiarity (Kim et al., 2019). Brand popularity appears to be more important in collectivistic societies. Chinese consumers tend to choose popular brands as social norms and group conformity are salient in collectivistic societies (Filieri et al., 2019; Markus & Kitayama, 1994). Given its historical Soviet roots, Uzbekistan is likely a collectivistic country where groups and others’ opinions may ‘urge’ consumers to prefer brands they perceive to be popular (Filieri et al., 2019). Furthermore, Safari and Chetty (2019) found that consumers tend to purchase products based on the brand’s popularity as it lowers the purchasing risk. The importance of brand potential popularity when purchasing Yellow Brands in developing countries has yet to be explored.
This study evaluated the potential of the Yellow Brand in comparison to a Regular brand. With respect to consumers’ cognitive perceptions of uniqueness, quality perception and popularity, the following hypotheses are offered below.
H1a: Consumers’ Rational perceptions (i.e., quality, uniqueness, and popularity) of the Yellow Brand will significantly predict purchase intentions.
For comparative purposes, we have constructed the same type of hypothesis for the Regular brand.
H1b: Consumers’ Rational perceptions (i.e., quality, uniqueness, and popularity) of the Regular Brand will significantly predict purchase intentions.
Moreover, statistically significant differences between the Yellow and Regular Brands appear in the next hypothesis.
H1c: Consumers Rational perceptions (i.e., uniqueness, quality, potential popularity) of Yellow Brands will be significantly greater than their Rational perceptions of Regular Brands.
The emotional aspect consists of brand trust, relevance, bonding as well as empathy (Vukasovic, 2009). Brand trust is “the willingness to rely on the ability of the brand to perform its stated function” (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001, p.2). It has been proven in past research that if the trust is developed, there will be an increase in the purchase intention (Aydin & Taskin, 2014; Sanny et al., 2020) As in the concept we have provided the description of the brand benefit, it is important to check how the message is believable, credible. It is important to note that, as the brand does not exist yet, some respondents might have some biased opinion (or doubt credibility). Importantly, brand credibility was identified to be even more important for countries with collectivist roots (e.g., Uzbekistan). Moreover, studies show credible brands receive higher quality ratings (Erdem et al., 2006).
When a new brand is tested potential relevance becomes important too as if the brand does not adhere to the personal values and norms of individuals, it becomes irrelevant. Brand relevance is one of the key ingredients when bonding emotionally with the consumer, (LLoyd, 2019), it helps the brands to develop an engaging and strong tie with the customer (Kupchella, 2018), and is identified to influence purchase intention (Hammerschmidt & Donnevert, 2007). To win consumers over, brands must first be relevant (Aaker, 2010). The relevance of the Yellow Brand is created by addressing socio-economic issues. Once sufficient brand relevance is identified in the testing stage, then it can be further enhanced.
Brand bonding is an emotional bond that could exist between an individual and a brand. Brand bonding has derived from the theory. According to Scannell and Gifford (2010), bonding attachment is about how affection can bond a person and a brand. Moreover, social ties and brand trust are related to brand attachment (Hemsley-Brown & Alnawas, 2016). Brand empathy, the degree that consumers identify or sympathize with the brand, impacts purchase intention (Anaza et al., 2018; Yang & Yen, 2018; Zerbini et al., 2019). Brand trust, relevance, bonding as well as brand empathy comprise the emotional element. We, therefore, offer the hypotheses below.
H2a: Consumers’ Emotional perceptions (i.e., relevance, trust, bonding, empathy) of the Yellow Brand will significantly predict purchase intentions.
H2b: Consumers’ Emotional perceptions (i.e., relevance, trust, bonding, empathy) of the Regular Brand will significantly predict purchase intentions.
H2c: Consumers Emotional perceptions (i.e., relevance, trust, bonding, empathy) of Yellow Brands will be significantly greater than their Rational perceptions of Regular Brands.
Action-Oriented/Behavioral elements are what individuals do based on the rational/cognitive and emotional elements. The action-oriented elements are willingness to recommend the product to others and acceptance of premium pricing. Brand perceived uniqueness, separating the brand from the competition, provides an added value to consumers, thereby affecting consumers’ willingness to pay a price premium (Netemeyer et al., 2004). Anselmsson et al. (2014) found that uniqueness is among the strongest determinants of a price premium. Willingness to recommend a product to others is influenced by CSR initiatives, which in turn is associated with purchase intentions (Deng & Xu, 2017). Willingness to recommend is a customer satisfaction metric associated with a strong marketing brand advantage (Nyagah et al., 2021). It is therefore an important variable of interest. Consequently, we proposed the hypotheses below.
H3a: Consumers’ Action-Oriented perceptions (i.e., willingness to recommend to others, pay a price premium) of the Yellow Brand will significantly predict purchase intentions.
H3b: Consumers’ Action-Oriented perceptions (i.e., willingness to recommend to others, pay a price premium) of the Regular Brand will significantly predict purchase intentions.
H3c: Consumers Action-Oriented perceptions (i.e., willingness to recommend to others, pay a price premium) of Yellow Brands will be significantly greater than their Rational perceptions of Regular Brands.
The current study empirically tested a new brand type in Uzbekistan, which extends our understanding of CSR brand modelling in developing countries. Specifically, two possible brand types: Regular and Yellow (described below) were empirically compared with respect to consumer perceptions and purchase intentions. We did not apply traditional concept testing which could have tested only Yellow Brand in isolation, instead, we have applied conjoint concept testing which includes another potential brand (Regular). Conjoint concept testing is considered a more structured and reliable approach to testing new brands (Green & Srinivasan, 1990).
To test the Yellow Brand idea, a concept was created that reflected insight, functional, emotional benefits as well as reasons to believe in the brand. The Yellow Brand functional benefit empathized quality, as product quality should be acceptable to consider other brand benefits. English language education is presented as a socio-economic benefit. A second concept was created which reflected a Regular Brand whose similar functional benefit highlighted quality but no CSR benefits at all. The description of Yellow and Regular Brand concepts may be found in Appendix 1. Study variables were derived from the Brand Potential Index developed by GfK, a leading indicator of future brand success (Vukasovic, 2009). Bottled water was chosen as a hypothetical example for this study because the water market in Uzbekistan is highly competitive and water is viewed as a commodity by consumers. Therefore, product taste does not impact preference. Consequently, pure brand positioning ideas can be evaluated more objectively.
A questionnaire (Appendix 2) was developed based on the ten BPI attributes, and selected demographic variables: age, gender, education, and family income. The questionnaire was offered in the three languages common to Uzbekistan: English, Russian, and Uzbek. Respondents rated two brands, Regular and Yellow on the same ten attributes (repeated measure). Likert scales were used to identify personal attitudes and perceptions (Allen & Seaman, 2007).
The questionnaire link was distributed through email and social media (i.e., Facebook) to a convenience sample. The required sample size at the confidence level of p < .05, and the estimated proportion of the attribute present in the population was determined using the Cochran formula (Cochran, 1963). Cochran’s formula is considered especially appropriate in situations with large populations. Given a 34 million Uzbekistan population, the suggested representative sample size was 385. A total of 405 responses were received, eight responses were deleted after the data was cleaned, resulting in 397 acceptable responses. The sample size was adequate for the current study.
The sample was evenly split between females (48.9%) and males (51.1%), was predominantly educated at the bachelor level, and between 18 and 39 years of age (81.1%). Respondents reported their family income as sufficient to afford daily necessities and home appliances (e.g., TV, refrigerator, computer). Sample demographics may be found in Appendix 3.
Multiple regression analyses were conducted to ascertain the relationship between brand potential indicators of regular and yellow brands and their relationship with intention to purchase. Subjects rated the Yellow and Regular Brands on the same BPI elements and intention to purchase; that is, a repeated-measures experimental design was deployed (Greenwald, 1992). Error variance reduction and increased statistical power are advantages of the within-subjects methodology (Charness et al., 2012). The BPI elements were regressed on the intention to purchase, once for the Yellow Brand then separately for the Regular Brand. Paired t-tests were conducted for each BPI element to determine if subjects perceived the Yellow Brand more favorably than the Regular Brand.
Table 1 contains the Yellow and Regular Brand regression analyses results. The Rational, Emotional, and Action-Oriented BPI elements accounted for significant amounts of purchase intention dependent variable variance (R2 = .634, p < .001 and R2 = .494, p < .001) for the Yellow and Regular.
Brands, respectively. Beta weights for five BPI elements were significant for the Yellow Brand: uniqueness, potential popularity, trust, empathy, and recommendation to others. In contrast, only two Regular Brand BPI element Beta weights were significant: trust and recommend to others.
Table 2 contains the paired t-test results for the Yellow and Regular Brands. The quality, uniqueness, potential popularity, and price premium elements significantly differed of the two brands. The other Yellow and Regular BPI elements mean values did not significantly differ. Yellow Brand uniqueness achieved the highest mean value indicating its relative importance among BPI elements. Perceived quality and potential popularity resulted in a negative t value indicating that the Regular Brand was viewed more favorably than the Yellow Brand. Respondents were significantly more willing to pay a price premium for the Yellow in comparison to Regular Brand.
The current study compared two brand positioning ideas using the concept testing method: a Regular Brand with no CSR benefits, and a Yellow Brand that provided socio-economic societal benefits. Purchase intention drivers were identified with respect to nine attributes: quality, uniqueness, potential popularity, relevance, trust, bonding, empathy, willingness to recommend to others, and acceptance of premium pricing. Additionally, significant differences between the two brands were examined along with the BPI elements.
When the BPI elements were regressed on purchase intention, the amount of variance accounted for by the Yellow BPI elements was larger. The standardized beta weights were also higher for the Yellow Brand, indicating a stronger relationship between the BPI elements and purchase intention. These findings reinforce past research reviewed earlier that consumer purchase intentions are generally enhanced when brands are perceived to be unique, and that consumers are more willing to pay a price premium (Anselmsson et al., 2014; Dhar & Sherman, 1996; Netemeyer et al., 2004). The present study demonstrated that this relationship may be stronger for Yellow Brands in developing countries where socio-economic needs are greater.
Rational elements included quality perception, uniqueness, and potential popularity. There was a statistically significant difference between Yellow and Regular Brand with respect to quality perception and uniqueness. Yellow Brand Purchase intention was positively impacted by the perception of uniqueness, popularity, empathy, and willingness to recommend. Adversely, brand trust had a negative impact on purchase intention.
The surprising finding is that the Yellow Brand was perceived to be of lesser quality than the Regular brand. This result contradicts previous research that reports a positive influence of CSR activities on perceived quality (Banerjee & Wathieu, 2017; Calaveras & Ganuza, 2018). In the current study, this may be due to different” reasons to believe” (RTB) used in the concept description for the two brands: “water quality is ensured under German quality control” (Yellow) and “water from Tyan Shyan mountains, …. new water enriched with microelements” (Regular). The Yellow RTB only covers the water production method of water; however, the Regular RTB included the source of water and other information (e.g., microelement). The Yellow RTB did not include product source, ingredients and other information that would have increased quality perceptions. Robinson and Wood (2018) evaluated the influence of CSR activities of new brands in a developed country and found that lower quality performance and high CSR focus are associated as customers believed that product quality suffers when companies overemphasize CSR. Importantly, the author suggests that this negative impact could be reverted to a positive one if the focus is explicitly drawn to both products as well as CSR. Consequently, we can conclude that lower quality perception of Yellow Brand or any brand that aims to provide socio-economic benefit to the society is not a significant drawback and could be amended if necessary.
The perception that the Yellow Brand was more unique was expected as brands in Uzbekistan do not typically include social impact. Furthermore, there are few companies that integrate CSR into their corporate strategies. A website search found only six Uzbekistan companies that contained even minor information about CSR activities even though such information would potentially be a competitive advantage. This finding is in line with the study conducted by Nardi et al., 2021, which identified the more CSR initiatives in the industry, firms have lower chances to stand out in the competition. Moreover, Keller et al., 2002, p. 6) stated that “strong, favorable, unique associations that distinguish a brand from others in the same frame of reference are fundamental to successful brand positioning”. Within a product category, a brand can potentially differentiate itself, increase brand awareness level, increase Top of Mind, and ultimately influence product sales in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods product category. The uniqueness of the Yellow Brand may be a short-term competitive advantage, as additional Yellow Brands enter the market and other companies might do more CSR initiatives. Nevertheless, clear brand positioning in combination with strategic CSR integration might grant uniqueness perception to remain long-term.
In the present study, the Yellow Brand popularity was perceived as significantly lower than the Regular Brand popularity. The novelty of Yellow Brands in Uzbekistan may have lowered the perception of potential popularity in comparison to Regular Brands. However, Yellow Brand potential popularity had a significant positive influence on purchase intention, which is in line with other studies that underlined the importance of brand popularity for the consumer (Filieri et al., 2019; Markus & Kitayama, 1994; Safari & Chetty, 2019). Increasing the perceived popularity of Yellow brands represents a marketing opportunity as this element is associated with purchase intentions.
The Yellow and Regular Brand trust element did not significantly differ. However, in the regression, it is evident that brand trust is impacting negatively on the purchase intention. One possible explanation for this could be that respondents may doubt whether such novel brands could exist in Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, the literature suggests that brand trust builds over a long period of time of demonstrated brand value which in large part is in the hands of brand and product managers (De Morais Watanabe et al., 2020). In this research, Trust was significantly related to buying intentions for the Regular brand that respondents are more familiar with and perceived to be less novel. Therefore, a significantly lower score for the Yellow brand may develop over time and the marketing functions’ ability to deliver the goods or services that are credible and worth trusting. Moreover, the regression analysis shows the negative impact of the brand trust on the purchase intention of the Yellow Brand, consequently, it is important to keep track of the brand trust association after Yellow Brand is launched, like the quality perception attribute that was discussed above.
Consistent with previous research (Kotler et al., 2019), the Yellow Brand empathy beta weight was significant (β = 0.165, p < .001), indicating that affective feelings towards brands is an important element in consumer purchase decision-making. Brand empathy was insignificant for the Regular Brand.
Willingness to recommend
Willingness to recommend a product or service to others is associated with purchase intention (Chen, 2020). Brand perceived value-added influences consumer behavior, and this research suggests that Yellow and Regular Brands have a significant impact on purchase intentions (Swoboda & Sinning, 2020). Consumers are also willing to recommend increased premiums for certified and conventional products, in our case it was water which is a regular everyday used product (Oesman, 2021). Willingness to recommend the product to others is also influenced by product knowledge, purchasing power, packaging, age, gender. Social status, and the economic conditions of the country (Kucher et al., 2019).
Compared to the Regular Brand, Yellow Brand consumers reported greater premium pricing acceptance. This finding is reasonable if consumers associated the brand with the added satisfaction of benefiting society. For example, Pampers has collaborated with UNICEF since 2006 to overcome consumers’ perception that Pampers products were equivalent to its competitors. Pampers offered one tetanus shot for each diaper pack sold, a significant societal benefit especially during a pandemic in a developing country. Pampers, therefore, provided a reason for price premium acceptance. A study conducted by Anselmsson (2014, p. 1) supports this finding and confirms that the strongest determinants of price premium are social image and brand uniqueness. On the other hand, consumers in developing countries may be price elastic due to low earnings and even though they may report “premium pricing” acceptance this does not guarantee that they would be able to pay the price premium. Moreover, it is important to point out that even though there was a statistically significant difference between Regular and Yellow brands with respect to acceptance of premium pricing, the overall mean value is considerably lower in comparison to the other nine BPI attributes. Therefore, in comparison to the regular brand, respondents perceived the Yellow Brand to be worth the additional price. Moreover, Öberseder et al. (2011) found that only a minority consider company CSR activities in their purchasing decisions even though many claims that they care about CSR and that CSR influences their purchase intention. Nevertheless, if given a choice, consumers prefer socially responsible brands over brands that are not (Hildebrand et al., 2011; Maignan et al., 2005).
As competition increases, change accelerates, and socio-economic support becomes more vital in developing countries, our findings suggest that organizations consider Yellow Brands as part of their overall marketing strategy. Companies should strategically choose their CSR initiatives when expanding both domestically and internationally. For example, environment-oriented CSR initiatives that organizations deploy in developed countries may be perceived differently by consumers in developing countries where environmental issues may be seen as less important than the socio-economic challenges faced by consumers.
The value of concept testing should extend beyond product features into exploring different types of CSR initiatives. For example, insights can be ascertained using questionnaires and focus groups that pertain to various types of CSR initiatives. The saliency of different types of CSR can be determined contingent on consumer needs on a micro level and country needs on a macro level. The usefulness of the BPI elements was demonstrated presently, and the approach may provide actionable information for decision-making purposes.
The finding that product quality perceptions decreased with the Yellow Brand underscores the need for organizations to communicate their CSR initiatives in a fashion that not only does not adversely impact perceived product quality. On the contrary, when communicating information about Yellow Brands, information about product quality should be emphasized so that consumers do not assume that CSR comes at the expense of other organizational efforts. For example, the deep consumer insight finding that a disturbingly low percentage of women worldwide believe that they are beautiful has pushed organizations to launch campaigns aimed to make women feel more beautiful. Dove, Inc.’s “Real Beauty” campaign (Dove, 2021) in conjunction with generic ads underline product quality, and such an approach is suggested for the Yellow Brand as well. Similarly, organizations can devise self-funding CSR strategies that do not impact product manufacturing or research and development funding. For example, allowing employees to devote a designated percentage of their time to CSR efforts without lowering performance expectations would implement CSR without impacting manufacturing budgets. Such initiatives may have the added benefits of retaining millennials, increasing employee satisfaction, improving organizational image, and building constructive community connections (iHire, 2021). Organizations such as Xerox offer paid time off programs whereby employees can engage in CSR initiatives. Since 1974, Xerox Corporation has implemented the Xerox Community Involvement Program whereby employees volunteer in community improvement projects (Xerox, 2021).
As with all research, the present study has limitations. First, a convenience sample was used using social media. Convenience samples are deployed when sampling randomly is logistically difficult. Such samples are increasingly being used because respondents are recruited quickly, reduces costs and allows for snowballing (Jager et al., 2017; Stokes et al., 2019). This convenience sample has several advantages over a more traditional probability sample in that they are less expensive, more efficient, and easier to implement (Bornstein et al., 2013).
The Yellow and Regular Brand concepts were fictitious brands based on concept testing principles. Generalizability may also be limited as only two brands were studied rather than multiple brands each with additional information. This increased information may better reflect the complexity of consumer purchasing decision-making. The findings are also limited to Uzbekistan.
Future research should increase the number of brands, reasons to believe and CSR approaches (e.g., environmental, human rights, and economic benefits). Environmental sustainability (green), socio-economic (Yellow) and a control brand with no CSR information can be contrasted in future research. Developing and developed countries may also be compared. For example, consumers in developed countries may have greater price premium acceptance than consumers in undeveloped countries because they can afford to subordinate socio-economic benefits to environmental needs as their per capita income is higher. That is, the socio-economic needs are satisfied whereas the environment needs improvement (possibly because of advanced industrialization). Future research should be extended to developing countries in Central Asia and other regions.
In conclusion, the perception of socio-economic benefit was examined in a developing country where few CSR practices exist. A brand positioned to benefit society was perceived to be more unique, worth a premium price, but of less quality and popular. Where the purchase intention for the Yellow Brand is positively impacted by the perception of uniqueness, brand empathy and willingness to recommend, and negatively impacted by brand trust. Brands with socio-economic benefits may therefore be considered by brand managers that wish to differentiate their brands in developing countries.
Availability of data and materials
Primary data was gathered by the authors and can be requested from same.
Brand potential index
Corporate Social Responsibility
Reason to Believe
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Ataniyazova, Z., Friedman, B.A. & Kiran, P. New corporate social responsibility brand evaluation in a developing country: Uzbekistan. Int J Corporate Soc Responsibility 7, 3 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40991-022-00071-3
- Corporate social responsibility
- Consumer insight
- Concept testing
- Socio-economic benefits
- Brand positioning