For years, researchers have attempted to measure the impact of CSR on consumer behavior. But consumers don’t buy CSR activities. And, they never will. Consumers buy products and services, with certain benefits. When was the last time you heard of anyone buying a computer from Dell because of the company’s investments in energy efficiency? If the achieved energy efficiencies led to longer-lasting computers, however, the story might be different.

In the consumer insights research we’ve conducted for numerous Fortune 100 companies, we’ve found that there is a fundamental difference between socially conscious consumers and consumers that respond to “Social Value Drivers”—economically-valued consumer benefits delivered through social impact. While there is certainly some overlap between these consumer groups’ preferences, they have discrete demands.

Socially conscious consumers are driven by their convictions. They reward companies that they perceive fit with their value systems and penalize companies that offend their values. Consumers that are influenced by Social Value Drivers are different. They value CSR programs only insofar as they deliver direct, tangible benefits to the consumers themselves.

These benefits may be functional (i.e. making a product perform better or be safer), emotional (e.g. helping the consumer fulfill a sense of obligation or support a core belief), or identity-related (e.g. associating with a movement, status or cultural identity). And this is important because Social Value Drivers are tied to consumer behavior like spend, purchase frequency, share of wallet and brand advocacy. Indeed, Social Value Drivers are sometimes even more influential than traditional value drivers like price, quality and convenience.

But companies know very little about Social Value Drivers. Most market research firms are not focused on measuring them and haven’t developed the instruments to isolate or define them. At the same time, many of the sustainability or CSR strategy consultancies don’t have the science or consumer insight capabilities to rigorously derive these concepts and link them to consumer behavior and business results. So, there really wasn’t much a company could do. Until now.

By working with the consumer insights teams at some of the world’s leading consumer brands, we’ve designed a methodology to develop and measure Social Value Drivers and combine them into what we call a “Social Value Proposition” (SVP) – the promise of social benefits to be delivered to consumers through a product, service, brand or organization. Social Value Proposition research identifies the social benefits that are statistically proven to drive consumer behavior and improve business results. Our approach differs from past techniques for measuring CSR in a number of respects:

1) We focus on measuring the link to consumer behavior, not just consumer awareness, reputation or perception.
2) We apply advanced qualitative and quantitative market research techniques to measure business impact in an approach similar to the way other product features or benefits are tested.
3) We benchmark brands against their competitors to provide an overview of entire industries thereby enabling us to compare brands against their peers within given industry segments.
4) Finally, our process includes predictive ROI capabilities to quantify the economic value of an improvement in a company’s Social Value Proposition.

All of this means that if you want to get more bang for your CSR buck, you can now stop spending money on causes you hope your consumers care about and start investing in purchase drivers related to social impact that are proven to shift consumer behaviors in your category or industry.

Perry Yeatman, former senior vice president of corporate and government affairs at Kraft Foods and president of the Kraft Foundation, is a principal at Mission Measurement, which measures social outcomes.