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A kinder gentler advantage

Most Americans expect companies to make profits, but now they want signs of a conscience, too.

In particular, consumers want firms to get actively involved in social causes, according to a recent survey.

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Many companies are doing just that.

Some current examples: Home Depot and housing programs; Avon and breast-cancer awareness; Target stores and education.

For such companies, the reward comes in the form of increased sales, brand reputation, and employee loyalty, according to a nationwide study conducted for Cone Inc., which develops and implements cause marketing for Fortune 500 companies and is a founding member of Businesses for Social Responsibility, a national nonprofit organization.

According to the study, 83 percent of US consumers say they have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause they care about.

Approximately two-thirds of consumers say that if price and quality are equal, they are likely to switch to a brand or retailer associated with a good cause.

The study also found that 8 out of 10 Americans prefer companies to commit to a specific cause for a long period of time rather than focus on many different causes over shorter periods.

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