It used to be that corporate social responsibility (CSR) was a brand differentiator. Today, you’re actually losing ground if you don’t have a CSR strategy. More specifically, you’re missing out if you don’t market your CSR initiatives.
The Power of CSR in Business
According to RE Resource Group, “Corporate Social Responsibility is an ethical management concept where companies aim to integrate social, economic and environmental concerns along with the consideration of human rights into their business operations.”
On the surface, CSR might sound like charity work or a sponsorship. However, it doesn’t really fall into either of these categories. CSR goes far beyond either of these categories. Rather than coming alongside an existing organization and lending a little time or money, a CSR initiative is self-owned and directed. There may be community involvement and sponsorships with other groups, but it’s an initiative that’s led by the company. The goal is to earmark internal resources to create change in society and/or the environment.
There are a number of key benefits associated with a well-planned and executed CSR strategy. In addition to having a positive effect on society, these programs provide business benefits such as:
- Higher employee retention. Businesses often make the mistake of assuming that employees only care about salary and bonuses. However, research shows that financial incentives aren’t actually the best motivator. The average employee reaches a point where money no longer moves the needle a significant amount. Instead, they want to know that they work for a company that cares about them and cares about the people it serves. A CSR strategy that permeates the DNA of the business makes people feel grounded. This ultimately leads to higher retention and less turnover.
- Recruiting advantages. Many professionals on the open marketplace are actively considering employers’ CSR initiatives when considering which jobs to apply for. If two businesses basically have the same offer, yet one has a compelling CSR message and the other does not, the former company will enjoy a distinct recruiting advantage.
- Better brand reputation. Companies that are framed as being socially responsible enjoy an enhanced brand reputation and public image. This transfers over to both customers and prospective business partners.
- Increased customer loyalty. Research shows that 88 percent of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a company or brand that supports and engages in activities that are designed to improve society. Not only that, but they’re more likely to make repeat purchases. This makes CSR a compelling method for improving loyalty.
When you combine these benefits with the tangible impact that a CSR strategy has on the community and/or environment, it’s clear why competitive and forward thinking businesses invest considerable resources into these initiatives. And anything that businesses can do to enhance their strategies will only amplify the ROI.
How to Integrate Your CSR and Marketing Strategies
One of the most powerful ways to enhance a CSR strategy is by integrating it with an existing marketing strategy. In fact, you could say it’s a two-way street. CSR can enhance marketing, while marketing can enhance CSR. Keeping this in mind, here are some simple ways to integrate the two for maximum impact:
1. Find a Natural Fit
It’s never a good idea to plan and execute a CSR strategy simply because there’s an opportunity. The key to being successful with CSR (particularly from a marketing perspective) is to find a natural fit that aligns with your brand’s ethos.
As Greater Horizons explains, there are plenty of ways for businesses to get involved. Corporate philanthropy options include:
- Establishing a corporate foundation
- Creating a program where you match financial contributions from customers/partners
- Setting up a scholarship fund
- Starting a grantmaking program
According to Greater Horizon, 92 percent of consumers say they have a more positive image of a brand or product when it supports a cause they care about. Those last three words are very important. As you look for the right CSR initiative, make sure there’s a natural fit for both your brand and your customers.
2. Tell Stories
As human beings, we’re naturally drawn to stories. We find it much easier to relate to something if it’s told in a story format (versus simply spouting off facts and data points). As you think about how you can integrate CSR and marketing, do your best to collect stories from actual people. If you can communicate how your initiative is impacting real people, you’ll conjure a much more emotional reaction – one that garners support.
Stories are what make people remember your cause (and your brand). And the great thing about stories – at least from a marketing perspective – is that they can easily be repurposed for maximum reach. The same story can be told in a case study, short video, Instagram post, podcast episode, or social audiogram.
3. Avoid Greenwashing
When integrating CSR with marketing, there’s a bit of a balancing act at play. While the goal is to increase visibility for the responsible initiatives you’re pushing forward, you have to be sensitive about how far you go and always make certain that your motives are in the right place.
“Solely putting on appearances or greenwashing, the practice of promoting deceptive environmentally-friendly processes or products, indicates to customers that the company is not committed to social responsibility,” Investopedia mentions. “Instead, such behaviors can ultimately hurt the brand and the company’s success.”
Research shows that 65 percent of customers will actually research a company’s stance on an issue and/or their support of a cause to see if it’s being authentic. In other words, this isn’t something you want to fake. It’s absolutely imperative that you come across as genuine. A failure to act authentically will do more harm to your brand than good.
Strengthening Your Impact
Many businesses try and fail at CSR not because their cause is unworthy or their strategy is misaligned. In most cases, it’s the direct result of a lack of visibility and support. You can take your initiative to the next level by fully integrating it with your marketing strategy. In doing so, you’ll find plenty of support (and may even stumble into a few powerful partnerships). Herein lies the secret to CSR success.