BEIJING: International firms have invested heavily in corporate social responsibility in China, but domestic firms are leading the way in terms of consumer recall, a study has claimed.

R3, the marketing consultancy, and Syntao, the sustainability specialist, combined their research on brand engagement and the links between performance and brand perception to establish that, across ten leading Chinese cities, nine out of the top ten most recalled CSR companies were local. The tenth was Coca-Cola.

"Chinese consumers expect local companies to be doing the best job on CSR – they believe their heart and passion is in it, more than foreign companies" said Talia Tay, an R3 consultant.

She pointed out: "For the international marketer, this means they are already starting from behind when it comes to perception."

Both domestic and international companies need to be careful of using CSR simply as 'feel good marketing', however, and not taking account of the longer term sustainability needs of China.

"Most marketers are developing tactical PR events, but are not ultimately measuring their impact or relevance well enough," said Tay.

"We believe that in the coming years, there needs to be more dialogue, more tracking and more accountability," she added.

But this raises new challenges for marketers: "the growth of social media in China has outpaced their own experience sets," observed Tay. "Creating a CSR campaign with a true feedback and response is not yet common."

Lenovo was singled out as a Chinese company that has made great efforts to close the digital divide in China. It has over-invested in PC penetration to small towns and villages in the hinterland, a move that has shown it to be a good corporate citizen as well as proving commercially sound.

Coca-Cola, as the only foreign brand recalled in the top ten, has successfully adapted its 'Live Positively'  message for the Chinese market.

Data sources from R3; additional content by Warc staff