What comes to mind when the term corporate social responsibility (CSR) is sounded off? There’s a lot of noise around this business opportunity, but a lot of business owners either view it as a passing fad or an unnecessary external pressure. However, the truth is that it’s very important to the overall health of your organization – especially from a marketing and branding perspective.
Brands such as Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Dettol etc that touch billions across the world use CSR in their marketing approach. Many would perceive that CSR comes from a desire for good publicity, or perhaps a positive marketing push, but in reality, this version simply doesn’t hold value in the long term. Ultimately, CSR is not merely a marketing strategy -- it’s a tool for building a better business. Indeed, this do-better impetus should permeate every company’s entire life cycle - driving leadership, culture, production, design, business objectives, revenue and more.
A strategically developed, properly implemented CSR program can directly enhance a brand’s ability to create and maintain a positive image in the consumer marketplace.
Rather than a feel-good campaign or series of projects, corporate social responsibility should instead be a mindset that’s part of the company culture. In a world of growing demand and finite resources, companies today must create value for customers and communities through their products, services and processes. Companies today must think about innovation and essentially should offer services while finding solutions to some of life’s biggest problems, with the intention of leaving the world a better place for future generations.
We are finding that some of the world’s largest corporations, such as Salesforce.com and Google/Alphabet, now place their social and environmental credentials centre stage at customer events, via real-world CSR initiatives such as the Salesforce Foundation and Google.org, which invest in community action and non-profits. In the coffee business, the Costa Foundation has comparable aims.
In this way, CSR is not only something in which these companies actively invest time, money and effort, it’s also a good story to share. Customers like it and buy into both the products and the world view – as long as the story is backed by genuine action.
One example to entrench on is Dell’s Legacy of Good Plan which outlines 21 ambitious CSR goals that they want to achieve by 2020. Among them are the industry-leading circular economy practices of designing out waste and creating a more sustainable supply chain. “To date, we’ve recycled more than 4.2 million pounds of e-waste plastics and put them back into new Dell products,” said senior VP-CMO Karen Quintos, in addition to replacing virgin materials with recycled carbon fibre to keep millions more pounds of waste out of landfills. “These programs provide greater efficiency to Dell, but also to our customers, who are increasingly looking for help to achieve their own CSR goals.”
Aligning Business Benefits and Societal Success
As many CMOs are aware, getting the green light for programs that may not seem directly tied to revenue requires necessary perseverance. However, educating and shifting mindsets within management is crucial, especially when there still exists a perception that these programs involve compromising on cost or quality, but in fact, CSR initiatives are often a source of hidden efficiencies and innovation, in addition to providing societal benefits.
CSR is very much a long-term play, however. Companies tend to show financial losses in the first three years. It isn’t until 36 or 48 months down the road that benefits begin to kick in. But when they do, the impact can be instrumental in terms of marketing and branding.
The reason why CSR builds brand equity is largely psychological. Management expert Timothy Creel notes, “Positive feelings are related to social approval and self-respect. Brands that evoke positive feelings make customers feel better about themselves.” It’s important to remember that most purchases aren’t about satisfying a need. Sure, there are instances where customers need products to survive, but most purchases are rooted in wants. When a company is able to tie a purchase that is otherwise seen as non-essential to something larger than the product, customers have an easier time validating the purchase in their minds.
Another branding-related benefit of CSR is the sense of community it creates. Creel points to how Lowe’s donates materials and provides volunteer hours to Habitat for Humanity, which allows the company to form connections in local communities. These connections fuel the brand’s image and result in better connectivity.
Ultimately, a commitment to serving others has an impact on sales. According to a survey from Better Business Journey, 88 percent of customers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities that improve society.
Over the past few months corporate responsibility and social good campaigns have become omnipresent as corporations large and small use social initiatives as part of their larger marketing campaigns. Not only is it the right thing to do, but consumers now expect brands to stand for something and take action in a demonstrative way.
They offer a significant source of pride for employees, increasing morale and contributing to the overall culture of the brand. Like their consumers, these employees feel more optimistic about their company’s future and believe they are being more competitive if they engage in this type of program.
A Culture of Social Responsibility
Everything companies do from CSR perspective is tied back to the core belief that the purpose of the services they provide is to enable people to solve problems, make discoveries, and advance society on a global scale.
When a CSR strategy is grounded in the company purpose, it becomes a lot clearer what and how you should be engaging with your people, communities and planet.
Such initiatives have another benefit: they pile pressure on competitors to do the same. CSR is now so important to marketing (not to mention the planet) that people will criticise rival companies that don’t push a similar community, environmental, or sustainability message – even if they love their products.
So the lesson for marketers is clear: the next generation of customers wants your business to be sustainable and ethical. They want you to invest in their communities. And they’ll use the same platforms that you do to hold you to account.
The benefits of CSR are plentiful. While a CSR program should have a positive influence on the people, groups, or communities that are directly affected by the actions, it’s also becoming abundantly clear that CSR is a strong marketing and branding play.
If your brand is looking for a boost, CSR may be the answer.
Author: Responsible Business
Source: Responsible Business