Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer something that businesses half-heartedly invest time and effort into in order to appease board members and impress customers. It’s becoming a major priority for small and large companies alike. However, while most companies understand the importance of CSR, few recognize that the key to success is effective marketing.
Significance of CSR
When you reflect on the many social issues that took center stage at different times throughout the year, you’ll notice that more and more companies spoke out. Whereas big brands once remained mute in the middle of social controversies, it’s now becoming popular to say something – or at least to take a stance.
We saw a clear example of this in the wake of the racially motivated slayings this past June in Charleston, South Carolina. Two of the largest employers in the state – Boeing and IBM – led the charge for removing the Confederate Flag from the state capital in Columbia.
We also see it in much subtler instances involving ongoing issues such as global warming, animal cruelty, and gender equality. Companies have opinions too, and it makes sense to share these opinions when they could potentially benefit the brand.
The Key to Effective CSR
The issue is that most companies don’t know how to deal with CSR. A company can have all of the right thoughts and ideas, but how do you share and frame these thoughts in a way that’s conducive to strengthening a brand? Well, the simple answer is marketing.
“To fully benefit from corporate responsibility, businesses must wake up to the fact that they need to take a more indirect route to creating value with it,” writes C.B. Bhattacharya, an expert in CSR. “As corporate responsibility becomes a bigger shaper of companies’ public images, ignoring the advantages of effective corporate responsibility marketing becomes an increasingly higher stakes gamble.”
But what does CSR marketing look like? Is there any overlap with traditional marketing, or are the strategies completely separate? When businesses don’t invest in CSR marketing, it’s typically because they don’t know the answers to these questions. Let’s study the issue a little more and get to the root of it. Here are the keys to effective CSR marketing:
#1. Complete Digital Marketing Effort
If you’re interested in making CSR a priority for your business, you must be prepared to make it a comprehensive digital marketing effort. You can’t simply focus on Internet marketing; you also have to think about offline digital marketing. A CSR initiative is a big undertaking, and – as poker players like to say – you must go all-in.
When you look at ultra-successful marketing campaigns from major brands, what do you notice? Well, for starters, they’re ubiquitous. You turn on the TV, there’s a commercial. You log onto your favorite website, there’s an advertisement. You head to the iTunes store, there’s a podcast interview with a brand representative.
While you may not have the resources to invest in TV commercials, PPC ads on authoritative websites, and interviews on popular podcasts, you should leverage whatever resources you do have to drive what some call the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon in consumers. You want people to see your brand name attached to the cause you’re supporting in as many places as possible. Today, this requires a complete digital marketing effort.
#2. Focus on Social Media
No marketing channel is more powerful than social media. All of your CSR efforts should be centered on your social profiles. However, you have to remember that effective social media marketing is as much about listening as it’s about speaking. Hone your listening skills, and find out where your customers stand on certain issues. While you should never change your core beliefs to appease a customer, it’s wise to know whom you’re engaging with prior to posting a belief or stance.
Thankfully, listening to and monitoring social media users is no longer a major challenge. There are dozens of social media listening tools – including at least 15 free ones – that allow brands to make the most of social by gaining rich insights into what followers are saying and doing.
By leveraging the right social media monitoring tools, you can get a better idea of how your content is resonating with your audience, whether followers are having a positive reaction, and when the time is right to step in and say something. Social media is an incredibly valuable ally to CSR, so don’t forget to place an emphasis on connecting with these users.
#3. Say More with Less
Sometimes, the best CSR marketing strategy involves doing more with less. While it’s okay to be outspoken about particular issues, you want to avoid making a social issue your brand’s identity. If you’re spending more effort highlighting a social injustice than you are establishing your brand’s core product and service offerings, you’re doing something wrong. One way to make a statement without saying anything at all is to align your brand with charitable organizations and nonprofits that back the same causes that you support.
Much like in your personal life, nobody likes the person who does things for attention. For example, who are you going to like more? The guy who constantly posts about his charitable giving on Facebook, or the girl who you know is very involved with a particular charity because you always see her car in the parking lot? Most people find the second one more honorable and endearing.
When it comes to CSR, sometimes it’s best to let your associations do the talking. It’s certainly okay to speak out on causes you believe in, but don’t let these causes become the brand’s identity. Instead, align your brand with the cause, put in some hard work, and let your commitment do the speaking.
Making CSR Work for Your Brand
It’s clear that CSR is becoming an integral part of brand identity in the modern marketplace. What’s not so clear, yet, is how brands should approach different issues. While it’s up to your company to determine which social issues it wants to support and stand behind, doing so independently of marketing would be unwise.
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