While you may think that your brand has not changed much over the years, the environment in which it operates has. Today, brands “live” on an ever-increasing array of platforms online and offline, facing daily scrutiny from consumers and a variety of audiences. This fact alone makes it imperative for brands to stand for substance, and embody more than just a logo or market positioning. Demonstrating that they are caring about people, the planet as well as profit should be ingrained in the corporate culture to prove that their interests go beyond the bottom line. As Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School said, “Brands can do well by doing good.”
But not all corporate social responsibility programs hit the mark. A good CSR program taps into stakeholder’s emotions and gives companies and brands a unique competitive advantage, allowing them to rise above its competitors. Today’s consumers have greater interest in doing business with companies committed to sustainability and giving back to the community at large. In turn, companies that “give back” create future value for themselves.
The best place to start is with a clearly defined social responsibility strategy, one that is reflective of your company’s core brand values. Ideally, it is a strategy that has been identified as fundamental by the CEO and board of directors). Authenticity rules as does staying true to these core values in every aspect of the campaign. The more in sync a company’s CSR activities are with its business DNA, the more appropriate and organic it will be when linking them to brand marketing. A delicate balancing act, for certain, but one that is worth pursuing, as it will directly affect the program’s impact and interpretation.
A prime example of authenticity is The Traveling Red Table, a joint effort between the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) and American Red Cross (Red Cross), to help more people prepare to survive and recover from potential damaging earthquakes. By combining Red Cross expertise on preparing a kit, making a family disaster plan, and being informed with CEA’s residential insurance expertise and mitigation knowledge base, The Traveling Red Table highlights the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety -- with knowing how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On as one of those steps -- and increase registration in the Great California ShakeOut annual earthquake drill. Identifying safety and emergency preparedness with The American Red Cross makes perfect sense and is in alignment with organizational core brand values.
Given that any CSR activity may be viewed as self-serving, companies should downplay the association between their brand and the activity so as not to be accused of greenwashing (being a good corporate citizen just to “look good.”). Many companies and organizations are doing this by embracing education marketing to rise above the fray and directly engage key stakeholders, through schools, communities or online. Companies position themselves well in memorable fashion; by creating sponsored content that teaches youth and families something valuable and makes their lives (or their teacher’s lives and classroom teaching) easier, gives them something to stand for, or saves them money or time,. For example, “Healthy Habits,” a CSR initiative from Reckitt Benckiser’s Lysol brand, provides free education materials for teachers, parents and kids and seeks to improve school attendance by giving students easily executable tips, tools and information to live better, healthier lives through improved cleanliness and wellness. Identifying wellness with Lysol makes perfect sense and is in alignment with its core brand values.
Here are four things to consider when integrating your marketing with your corporate social responsibility promise:
1. Is it meaningful and will it have a long-term, sustainable, positive impact on company stakeholders?
2. Does the CSR program draw upon company strengths and resources? For example, a waste management company that donates its resources and staff to developing a hometown recycling program.
3. Is it engaging for the stakeholders, and perhaps for the media? By the nature of its design does it tell the company story?
4. Does it make a positive difference to people and the planet?
If your program factors in these components, then you’re embodying what authentic social responsibility is all about.