Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that they and the goods or services they buy have on the planet and other people. Society is demanding better and more equal human rights, greater levels of sustainability, less waste and more to be done to protect the natural world and help developing countries.
Social media has had a huge role to play in this increased awareness, making it easier for people to take to internet forums to complain or to begin petitions and campaigns. All this means that companies large and small need to take better care of their CSR policies and behave as ethically as possible. When it comes to marketing, CSR can have a major impact on the health of a business and it plays an immeasurable role in modern marketing practice.
What is CSR?
To start, I want to unpick what CSR means in a little more detail. ‘Corporate social responsibility’ is an umbrella term, bringing together social, environmental, economic and human rights concerns, and a company’s policies regarding these concerns.
CSR often goes far beyond sponsoring a local charity or teaming up with a not-for-profit organisation, great as those things are. It often means examining the entire supply chain at every stage and seeing how things can be improved in terms of green credentials and for the people working on a product, many of whom may be in developing countries.
The view from the top
Some executives see CSR as a really positive thing, and have a genuine interest in improving the way their company functions, giving back to society and the planet. Others see CSR as a necessary evil imposed on them by a more politically aware society and are concerned that it’s a loss leader.
That may well be the case initially. Companies implementing new CSR strategies can see their profits tumble, often not seeing any benefits for the first few years. Once the campaign is fully implemented and running smoothly, however, it can really enhance a brand and be a powerful marketing tool.
CSR: The marketer’s dream
Used well, CSR is one of the most powerful tools in a marketing department’s arsenal. They always say that people buy from people, not corporations. CSR, if it can be conveyed as a genuine passion to do right, gives a human side to what might otherwise be a rather ‘faceless’ corporation.
People have to believe there is a genuine passion and a real drive for change going on behind the scenes, and they won’t be fooled by ‘fluffy’ marketing with no real substance to it. The positive feelings a company can elicit from its customers comes from societal approval and self-respect – in other words, they need to feel they are ‘doing good’ and are seen to be doing good for themselves and the rest of society. Nobody wants to buy from a brand which has a reputation for being unethical in some way.
Customers are often buying something because they want it, rather than because they need it. Wanting to buy something is very different, because customers have more choice over where they buy it from. If a marketing campaign can tap into a positive story about their CSR, it can help a customer validate their desire to buy and justify the expense. If they can link that purchase, however unconsciously, with the fact that they’re doing a social good then they’re more likely to make the purchase.
CSR is largely about building a rapport between the customer and the corporation. It can also help create a sense of community between customers, a feeling that they’re in a ‘club’ because they’re all making the same ethical choice by purchasing from this particular business.
According to one study carried out by Better Business Journey, a UK small-business consortium, some 88% of the people they surveyed said they were more likely to buy goods from a company which engages in and supports activities which improve society.
In a digital age where we can connect with and engage with people around the world, consumers have a much more global perspective than they did a few decades ago. That means they’re no longer looking at just their local society but the bigger picture, aware that the goods they buy on their local High Street have an impact on the natural world and those further down a long supply chain.
A long-term game
Rewards for implementing a strong CSR marketing campaign are not instantaneous. Long term, however, CSR marketing has been seen to add to a company’s value and increase profits.
It is becoming abundantly clear that CSR is something all companies are going to need to embrace when it comes to marketing and their futures. People are only going to become more aware of the ethical choices they make when buying, and that means companies are going to come under greater scrutiny.
Companies such as US supermarket chain Kroger are already on board with CSR. Kroger is a good case study, as they have partnered with various organisations which fight world hunger and campaign for women’s rights in developing countries. They also support ex-servicemen and women and have improved their supply chain to help the environment and local economies.
There are marketing tools that are more effective than CSR, but companies have to start taking it more seriously if they want to grow and thrive in such challenging times. Done well, promoting your business’ CSR through advertising and marketing helps build a positive brand image, connects with customers and shows a more human and caring side that companies do not often show. What’s more, it can help the marketer to leave their own, meaningful and positive mark on our world. And that’s really something.