Now more than ever, consumers and corporate decision makers increasingly expect companies to act in a way which benefits society. Both nationally and globally, there is a desire for companies to be good citizens whose actions protect the environment and respect the rights of workers.
Nature abhors a vacuum and a whole ecosphere has developed and grown to help business address this – corporate social responsibility (CSR). Although many companies create their own CSR programs, there are dozens of consulting firms now who advice business leaders on how to balance the needs of “stakeholders” (those people and organisations who come into contact with companies as suppliers, employees, and so on), the environment, and the bottom line.
CSR is now central to many company’s content and brand marketing strategies because many consumers – especially millennials and Gen Zers – tend to favour brands whose principals (and resulting actions) match their own.
CSR is defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as:
“‘a business’s ability to maintain a balance between pursuing economic performance and adhering to societal and environmental issues’ whilst operating efficiently and effectively.”
Major components of a company’s actual CSR policies often depend on its industry sector.
A jewellery atelier might focus their CSR programme on the ethical mining of diamonds and the protection of wildlife while a coffee company might choose to pay above the market price for its raw ingredients to ensure that workers are paid a living wage.
For companies turning over less than £10m, CSR might seem a bit of an extravagance and, in many cases, businesses may overplay (but not in a misleading way) the benefits of their program to generate good publicity.
However, for customers, purpose is important and, in the battle to recruit the best staff, more and more millennials and Gen Zers tell surveys that they would choose an employer whose ethics and values they admire over one whose ethics and values seem vague even if they offered a better salary.
What’s in an average CSR program?
There are many different ways of demonstrating corporate and social responsibility and they don’t require you to perform grand gestures to the outside world to demonstrate your company’s “caring” side.
Larger, financially secure companies may wish to donate money to a worthy cause which fits with their brand ethos while smaller independent companies whose cash flow is often a cause for concern may choose to donate goods or staff time on a regular basis instead.
Some further examples of CSR in action include:
- Investing in environmental or social developments
- Donating money to charity
- Actively reducing their carbon footprint
- Participating in fair trade policies
- Improving their staff labour policies
- Volunteering in the local community
- Creating corporate policies that benefit the environment
What’s the (potential) payback from a CSR program?
52% of American consumers evaluate then judge the values of a company whose products and services the want prior to making a purchase.
Similarly, a 2015 report by Nielsen uncovered that 66% of consumers around the world are willing to pay more for goods from companies with CSR programmes.
The payback from a CSR program is from increased sales and more competitive recruitment through the practical demonstration of the values and ethics you assert in your marketing literature.
Right now, millennial or Gen Z consumers are attracted to brands whose values mirror theirs. If two companies are competing for that consumer’s business, surveys strongly suggest that the company with the CSR program (and a skilled marketing team to tell the story of that program) will win.
Gen Z’s and millennials will soon be the largest in number and most economically wealthy generations in charge of trillions of pounds worth of expenditure and in charge of world’s businesses.
Their attitude is somewhat different to the generations which went before them, some allege. Many Gen Z’s and millennials commentators state that, because baby boomers and Generation X grew up in a highly consumerist culture where having a big house and fancy car were the ideal, selfishness and greed drove their purchasing decisions.
Many Gen Z’s and millennials claim to have be thoroughly purged of such base desires and instead select products and services which provide longevity, genuine and authentic life enhancement and importantly and which are created and produced sustainably.
Of course, that is an exaggeration. The world needs people to care more about it and everything on it and this is a good thing but we are still all human and we like shiny new things.
Gen Z’s and millennials are genuinely more aware on many different issues and there have been many studies which show that people in this age range are highly likely to consider and judge:
- a company’s philosophy and approach to doing business,
- where and how the items they’re interested in were made,
- if they follow fair trade practises, and
- whether the ecological footprint of the item is sustainable at all stages from production to shipping.
Because we are living in a time where the consumer expects transparency, there is a strong commercial argument to developing a CSR program, practising the behaviour prescribed in it, and aggressively advertising it to the outside world.
One word of warning though – back-pedalling and making light of CSR is seriously damaging to a brand’s credentials.
Which brands can we learn from who are doing CSR the right way?
Some of the world’s biggest brands have been running and promoting their CSR programmes for years.
These companies’ activities have a significant impact on the environment and on people’s lives and the actions they undertake as part of their CSR program (and the promotion of those activities) offset the reputational damage that might cause.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson and Johnson’s sustainable development goal commitments focus on five areas in which the company feels it can make a difference:
- workforce health,
- environmental health,
- essential surgery,
- women’s and children’s health, and
- global disease challenges.
Via the company’s website and social media feeds, they document progress on each of their five charitable pillars to share with their target consumers.
The reputation of the fast fashion industry has suffered greatly with evidence of connections to hidden worlds of worker exploitation and child labour.
Toms launched a CSR program long before it was “trendy” with their ‘one for one’ shoe campaign. For every pair of shoes sold, they donate another pair to a child living in poverty.
They have since expanded on their program to focus on mitigating the environmental and social impact of their trading activities and on improving the lives of their workers.
They now offer shoes made from sustainable and vegan material which are packaged in 80% recycled post-consumer waste which is then printed with soy ink.
The Walt Disney Company
Since updating their CSR programme in 2017, Disney have committed to environmental conservation goals including zero net greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation, and a zero-waste policy.
They have also implemented strict international labour policies whose purpose is to protect staff rights and safety.
And, as they are a multi-national corporation, they employ staff in around the world and have launched healthy living and eating initiatives to improve the health of their workers.
The biggest search engine in the world’s CSR policy is led by their Google Green programme.
Their main aims are to create products which help save energy which has a positive effect on our environment as part of a commitment to donating over $1 billion to environmental causes.
For example, if a company switches to Gmail, Google claims that businesses can reduce the environmental impact of their email use by up to 98%. Google’s data centres have been engineered to use 50% less energy than the average data centre.
Famously passionate and often outspoken CEO Sundar Pichai has pledged to fight against racism and amongst other social issues in the countries in which the company operates.
Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s sustainability and socially conscious CEOs arguably launched the company’s CSR program before it produced its first tub of ice cream.
Ben & Jerry’s Foundation – launched in 1985 – aims to engage the company’s employees in philanthropic and social change work.
They also commit to give back to their communities (primarily in Vermont) and to support grassroot activism and others who stand for social and environmental justice.
CSR and content marketing
Before you think about marketing your CSR values and ethics, your company ideally should judge its day-to-day decision-making as well as its future planning with reference to potential positive and negative impacts.
It should also judge what marketing opportunities and public relations opportunity arise from a particular action or decision by framing it in CSR terms.
Your CSR activities should be marketed as story-telling and information sharing. Releases of information should be continuous and you should provide evidence of your activities and the outcomes of those activities.
As stated by Global Media Relation Specialist Jennifer Risi:
‘CSR programs do not just benefit a company’s external image, they often form powerful employee engagement platforms, as people want to work for companies that play a positive role in the world. Programs around sustainability can also have long-term cost savings, despite the initial investment involved.’
As distracting as it might be while you’re in pursuit of orders to pay your company’s bills, your CSR program and the content marketing created as a result of it should be sincere.
If the perception is that your CSR program is “crowd-pleasing window-dressing”, it will likely crumble under scrutiny of today’s savvy consumers.
For more information on devising a CSR program for your company and promoting it so that your target audience can easily find it, please get in touch with us on 0330 010 8300 or click here to email our inbound marketing team.