The way that customers interact with brands today is changing. For companies to engage and connect with today’s ever-more empowered consumer, they need to ensure that their identity, and the behaviours they engage in, have the right impact.
In a world where your target audience demands a business that not only delivers exceptional products and services, but also contributes to the community, becomes more transparent, and takes an active role in addressing universal issues, corporate social responsibility has become a mandatory requirement for any modern organisation.
In fact, many businesses have found that CSR helps them to identify their brand purpose and create a personality that their customers can connect with on a deeper level. According to one study by the “Reputation Institute”, 42% of how a person feels about a company is based on their knowledge of that firm’s CSR definition.
In other words, almost half of your company’s reputation comes from the public response to what your business is doing to support the current environment. If that wasn’t enough, the ventures with the best CSR initiatives have stronger stakeholder support. The most “responsible” brands have customers that are more likely to buy their products, act as brand ambassadors, and leave positive reviews about the company.
With all this in mind, we can only come to one conclusion about corporate responsibility: It’s essential to any brand’s image.
So, how do you show your customers your responsible side?
What is corporate social responsibility: Your CSR definition
Before we can start providing tips and tricks that help you to get more from your corporate responsibility strategy, we’ll need to answer one simple question: “What is corporate social responsibility?”
Known more commonly as “CSR”, corporate responsibility refers to the steps your business takes to adhere to legal and ethical standards in your community. This might include supporting local, national, or global causes, taking part in corporate philanthropy, or beginning altruistic initiatives of your own. Essentially, it’s about showing customers the selfless side of your business.
Usually, CSR can be broken down into categories such as:
Environmental efforts: These are the steps you take as a business to reduce your carbon footprint, and limit your negative impact on the world.
Philanthropy: Donating to local charities and supporting local community programs is an easy way to show your customers that you care about what matters to them.
Ethical labour practices: All businesses are expected to treat their employees ethically and fairly. The more you show you care about your workers, the more your community will respect you.
Volunteering: Even if your brand doesn’t have the financial resources to donate to charity, that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. Volunteering shows customers that you’re willing to go the extra mile for the right causes.
So, why exactly is finding your CSR definition so important to your company?
The simple answer is that today’s customers are sick of buying products and services from companies who are only in it for themselves. We can’t connect emotionally with businesses that devote more attention to making money, than making the world a better place.
Just as we prefer to think of ourselves as “good people”, we prefer to do business with brands that show their altruistic side. Research shows that more customers base their decisions on corporate social responsibility than ever before. In fact, one study found that 90% of shoppers across the globe will switch to buying from a brand that supports a good cause. What’s more, the same number of customers would automatically boycott a brand that engaged in “irresponsible”, or unethical practices.
Corporate responsibility is basically your chance to show your consumers that you care about something bigger than yourself. If you can do this in an authentic, and transparent way, then you can instantly begin to build brand loyalty among your followers, because customers are more likely to buy from a business that shares their ethical views.
Why your brand needs corporate social responsibility
In general, people like to associate themselves with good people. In the business world, customers prefer to be associated with companies known for their morality, high ethical standards, and compelling brand values.
Corporate social responsibility and branding are two things that naturally work together. In fact, the chances are that you’ll create your CSR definition based on a thorough evaluation of your brand positioning, strategy, and identity. For instance, while a clothing company might iron out a plan for corporate responsibility that involves improving work conditions in developing countries, a company that makes paper products might ensure that forests are constantly regenerated and protected.
While corporate responsibility is a great way to attract positive attention to your company by establishing your brand as something that has a positive impact on the world, the benefits of CSR go further than you might think. For instance, CSR can:
1. Strengthen your brand
Presenting yourself as “socially responsible” is a fantastic way to give yourself authority in your industry, and build a stronger platform for your brand. As mentioned above, people prefer to engage with companies that have strong values, and the right CSR strategy could even make your story more compelling so that you stand out ahead of your competitors.
2. Attract and retain top talent
We all know that people are key to any thriving company, that’s why it’s so important to make sure that you attract and retain the right talent for your organisation. A study in Stanford found that MBA graduates would sacrifice up to $14,000 on their annual salary just to work for a more socially responsible company.
In other words, the people with the best skills simply want to feel as though they’re making a difference in the world. That’s particularly true for millennials. Around 80% of 13-25-year-olds would prefer to work for companies that care about their impact on society.
3. Increase brand affinity
People like to connect themselves to companies that do good things because it makes them feel as though they’re better people overall. A survey conducted by Nielsen found that 50% of customers around the world would pay more for services and goods from responsible companies.
However, you can lose out on brand affinity if your customers feel as though you’re only engaging in CSR efforts to improve sales. This simply means that you’ll need to make sure that the programs you implement are as authentic as possible.
4. Engage employees
As mentioned above, employees today don’t just want to work for a business that pays the bills, they want to feel as though they’re having a real impact on the world around them. When you get your staff involved with important social programs, they’ll naturally feel more engaged at work. This means that your whole brand benefits from more focused, productive, and efficient workers.
5. Differentiate your brand
Finally, brand is all about finding a way to separate your company from all the similar businesses out there that offer competing products and services. By engaging in a corporate social responsibility strategy, you show your customers that you’re not just another copy-paste business producing the same old solutions.
A company with a CSR definition stands for something bigger than itself, and because of this, it stands out too. With a solid corporate responsibility campaign, you can outshine your competitors, and make your target audience take notice.
It’s good, to be good: Steps for an effective CSR strategy
So, you know why a CSR plan matters to your business, now all you need to do is figure out how you can implement corporate social responsibility into your company strategy. This means crafting and following a campaign that walks the line between benefiting your community and benefitting your business at the same time.
Here are a few steps that might be able to help:
1. Choose the right cause
First things first, you can’t just support every charity and cause that comes your way. Instead, you need to select a program that’s right for your business, and aligned with your company vision.
Look for ways to stand up for things that have a logical tie to your organisation. For instance, a vehicle development company might choose an environmental cause that focuses on reducing pollution, while a pharmaceutical company might contribute to fighting disease in third-world countries.
Google chose renewable energy as the focus of its corporate social responsibility program. On the other hand, Haagen-Dazs recently began raising awareness on the depletion of the honey bee population, while offering a portion of their sales to supporting honeybee research.
2. Get everybody involved
While corporate responsibility is typically something that starts at the head of a business, with management and executive insight, the implementation of any CSR requires a collective brand effort. Every part of your company needs to be involved and focused on achieving an end-goal.
When everyone in your brand knows what you’re standing for as a company, they can focus on achieving the same consistent tone in all your brand messaging and initiatives. This can create more consistent communication with customers, and help your brand to appear more authentic too.
3. Make the most of social media
CSR is an inherently social concept – in fact, the word “social” is right there in the name. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re making the most of social media when you’re sharing your social responsibility efforts with the world. Today’s social media platforms have allowed businesses to achieve a wider reach than ever before. The more you can connect with your customers on social media about your CSR efforts, the more you can get the community involved.
The key to success with social media is making sure that you don’t just “boast” about what you’re doing for the environment. People want to see that your efforts are coming from a place of authenticity and genuine interest. If you look like you’re taking part in corporate responsibility measures just to get more customers, you’re going to cause serious damage to your reputation.
4. Make corporate responsibility part of your brand identity
As mentioned above, CSR programs work best when they look and feel authentic. The last thing you want is to imply that you stand for something just because it seems to matter to your customers or shareholders. While you need to be careful to select a cause that your community can get behind, you also need to build a social responsibility program that reflects your brand identity, and your USP.
Don’t just tack corporate responsibility onto the end of your brand messaging, make it an inherent part of how you function as a company. For instance, if you’re a technology company that claims to protect the environment, make sure that there’s a page on your website outlining exactly what you do to protect the earth. When you launch a new product, tell people what steps you’ve taken to stick to your CSR initiative, while delivering exceptional value.
Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind when you’re using corporate social responsibility to build and improve your brand is that sincerity is key. There needs to be truth in every claim you make, and everything you do. Don’t just say you care about something, show your customers that you’re truly devoted to your cause. The support you get in response will be well worth the effort you put in.
Corporate responsibility examples your brand can learn from
While corporate responsibility is a concept that’s been around for decades now, there are still many businesses that have no idea how to implement CSR into their own marketing plans and branding strategies. While, like most things in branding, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to getting it right, most companies will find that looking at competing brands for inspiration can help them to achieve more out of their own CSR strategies.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of our favourite examples of companies who have used corporate social responsibility to their advantage.
Nestle corporate social responsibility
A company known primarily for selling sweet drinks and treats, Nestle have fought back against some of the negative issues associated with their brand, by developing a powerful sense of corporate responsibility. The Nestle CSR concentrates on improving health and wellness for both people, and the planet in general. In fact, Nestle is currently involved with 42 CSR commitments.
For instance, they’re working to support people around the world by removing artificial colours from their foods, decreasing levels of sodium, saturated fat, and sugars, and creating more nutritious products for the community.
Shell corporate social responsibility
Shell has experienced its fair share of problems with CSR advocates, as one of the biggest providers of fuel and petrol in the world. In an era where the general public is painfully aware of how damaging fossil fuels can be to our environment, Shell attempts to deliver essential energy to society, while maintaining a focus on sustainability.
The Shell CSR plan includes applying a “staged” process to their plan of delivering fuel across the globe. This means that the brand conducts in-depth assessments on the environmental, social, and health impact of their company while implementing strategies to reduce their long-term impact.
Apple corporate social responsibility
As one of the most popular, and well-known technology companies in the world, it makes sense that Apple would take its corporate responsibility plan seriously. After all, they need to maintain the loyalty they’ve established over the years with their innovative services and products.
The Apple CSR focuses on “asking less of the planet”. Not only does the business encourage all of its IT partners to use renewable energy sources, but Apple packaging is now made from 99% recycled paper products. It’s no wonder Apple is currently the greenest technology brand in the world, according to Greenpeace.
Salesforce corporate social responsibility
The CEO and chairman of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, summed up corporate social responsibility in a particularly eloquent way, when he said that the business of business, was improving the world. In other words, your company should have a positive impact on the earth.
As part of their corporate responsibility strategy, Salesforce adopted a philanthropic approach to business that’s known as the 1-1-1 model. Basically, this means that the Salesforce CSR plan sets aside one percent of its equity to support the communities where its employees live. At the same time, another one percent of the company’s profits are donated to charities, while one percent of each employee’s time is donated to initiatives in their local community.
Bosch corporate social responsibility
Finally, Bosch offers a fantastic answer to the question “What is corporate social responsibility?” The business operates according to values that were set by the founder, Robert Bosch, who believed that consumer trust was crucial to success. Robert felt that responsibility was essential to maintaining the trust of his customers, and that idea echoes in all of the social and ecological efforts of the brand.
Today, Bosch invests around 50% of its R&D budget into technologies that support environmental protection and conservation. Additionally, the Bosch eXchange program re-manufacturers pre-used components from cars, to produce 23,000 fewer tons of CO2 each year.
Making your corporate social responsibility plan work
Corporate social responsibility is more than just a tool for exceptional public relations, or a strategy to outsmart the competition. Your brand’s personal CSR definition is what helps to identify you as more than just another cookie-cutter company. By showing your customers that you stand for something, you establish your business as something that exists for reasons that are bigger than simply “making profits”.
All you need to do is follow three key steps:
1. Have a vision: Social responsibility for a business begins with an understanding of what your company stands for. The more you know about your core beliefs, business strategies, and models for success, the more you can develop a believable brand awareness strategy that conveys key ideas about the ethics and social issues that drive you. Remember, you can’t just choose any random cause to support. If the CSR plan you have doesn’t fit naturally with the personality and purpose of your brand, then your customers will pick up on the disconnect, and start to question your authenticity.
2. Don’t just talk the talk: Once you’ve chosen to connect your brand with CSR initiatives and programs, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting actively involved with the things that are relevant to your brand. Telling people that you care about the environment won’t inspire brand loyalty and affinity. However, actively working to make the world a better place by improving the green initiatives in your offices, or donating to an environmental research project will show your customers that you care about something bigger than yourself. When it comes to corporate social responsibility, it’s what you do, not what you say that defines you in the eyes of your target audience.
3. Monitor your initiatives carefully: While your CSR program should always be more than just a marketing strategy, it’s worth making sure that you monitor your efforts closely to see what kind of impact they’re having on your reputation. After all, you’ll need to make sure that the things you’re doing and saying are resonating with your audience on the right level, and inspiring more community love for your brand. If people don’t care about what you’re doing, or they feel negatively about certain things that are linked to your brand, then you’ll need to make changes or adapt your CSR programs to suit the ideals of your target market.
Today’s consumers are highly attuned to whether the brands they prefer are “responsible” citizens in the world, or not. Effective corporate social responsibility gives you the power to stand out in today’s saturated market, and connect with your customers on a level that ensures long-term loyalty, and potentially even brand advocacy.
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