How businesses can drive their corporate social responsibility profile in a meaningful way that is well received by today’s consumers.
Corporate activism took a central role in marketing in 2018. The idea that business should be about more than just money, and that purpose should drive what organisations do, took hold. This was embraced by marketers from Nike, globally, to Eat my Lunch, locally. This shift was brought about in equal measure by an increased level of transparency into how businesses are operating, and a growing expectation from consumers that businesses do more to address the social and environmental challenges facing us all.
This is a marked change from the approach of the last century when corporations were dominated by a largely capitalist mindset. At the worst end of the spectrum business was about maximising value for shareholders with little regard for the environment, employees or even customers. If something sold, that was all that mattered.
The introduction of the internet and then the rise of social media has resulted in a dramatic shift in power. The connected world we live in now is much more transparent and has introduced a different type of accountability that never existed before. This change has resulted in some big brands being ‘found out’ and some new, smaller brands, with loyal fans, growing faster than ever — think Dollar Shave Club, or the Kiwi shoe brand, All Birds. However, this was just the start of what we are now seeing as the new marketing landscape.
Accelerating this is a desire from consumers to be seen to be doing something to address issues ranging from gender equality and safety for all woman, fuelled by the #MeToo movement, to the dramatic backlash against soft plastics, and the quickening realisation that we all need to do more to address global warming. Supporting brands that are seen to be doing good is an easy way for consumers to feel like they are making a difference.
With this, consumers are demanding more transparency; they expect to see and understand how companies source materials, manage their teams and care for the environment and the communities that they operate in. In an HBR and EY study, they found that 87 percent of consumers want brands to have a purpose beyond financial profit. Those that do, experience significant benefits in terms of better staff retention, customer recommendations and financial returns.
Today we look to big brands as having the power and duty to be positive contributors to society. Consumers are increasingly favouring brands that align with their beliefs and values and becoming fiercely loyal to them as a result.
So how can businesses drive their corporate social responsibility profile in a meaningful way that is well received by today’s consumers? Here are three things to think about;
You can’t fake it in today’s society. Consumers are very quick to sniff out a brand that isn’t genuine. When done right, it will be felt by suppliers as well as customers. Resulting in more people wanting to work with you, lower turnover, more favourable business deals and more consistent revenue growth.
The next test is to ensure your brand has a relevant connection to your CSR. For example, if you’re an athletics brand, then helping grassroots sports programmes or fighting childhood obesity are both excellent fits. However, sponsoring theatre or cultural events might not be. A car brand might focus on something that encourages people to explore. Or a beer brand could champion sociability or support music events.
You should be careful about building an explicit brand purpose platform, unless it comes from the inside out, as a naturally sceptical public will pull it apart if it’s anything but 100 percent genuine. Use your purpose as a motivating force that drives the business forward. You can also use CSR as a motivational tool for your team, extending this to your existing customers is then a natural progression and can help build brand loyalty.
But I want it to go viral
Dr Jessica Vredenburg, an expert in services marketing and a lecturer at AUT suggests, if you want buzz right now, then do consider pushing the boundaries into a slightly unrelated area. Nike arguably did this by using Colin Kaepernick’s stand on police brutality. This message is unrelated to sport, but the campaign played out in a sporting arena and was delivered by an athlete associated with Nike. This approach may have more immediate traction, getting people to sit up and take notice of your stance on an issue that is topical and trending. So if the topic is unrelated to your brand purpose, but you can deliver it in a way that is related, it can generate conversation right now. But tread carefully.
It’s difficult to deny that CSR is something that all businesses need to consider to ensure they remain relevant in today’s transparent marketing environment, but for long-term brand building, it might be best to avoid putting it in a starburst and slapping it on your packaging. Let your purpose come from your core and the benefits will follow.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2019 issue of NZ Marketing. Click here to subscribe.