Using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to Improve Your Brand
“Social responsibility” is no longer a new term in business or other organizational settings. It has been around for a very long time. In fact, the “Golden Rule” is a representation of social responsibility, doing unto others what they want others to do for them. It was only in recent decades that it finally got a more formal and apt name to suit the setting, and the expanding scope of that responsibility.
Every member of society is expected to have a social responsibility, be they students, professionals, or regular individuals or citizens. Lately, though, we have often been hearing the term “CSR”, which means Corporate Social Responsibility or, in business circles or corporate settings, simply known as social responsibility.
In this article, you’ll learn (1) the basics of corporate social responsibility and (2) how CSR can assist in branding.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
The simple definition of social responsibility calls it the “obligation of an organization – its management, in particular – towards the interests and the welfare of the society that it operates in”. But we can go even deeper than that, since social responsibility is also an ethical framework that encompasses that obligation to perform their duties, in order to maintain a state of equilibrium between the economy and the society.
It is also safe to refer to social responsibility as a management strategy, since businesses now make use of it to create a positive impact on society and establish a good reputation as they carry out their normal business operations. Over the years, social responsibility has proven itself to be a valuable link in companies’ business strategies, which is why even the largest companies in the world spend millions annually on CSR.
While it is a fact that businesses operate for the purpose of maximizing profits, maintaining a good relationship with the society that they operate in is still vital. Businesses that can demonstrate having a social conscience are seen to have greater chances at success, and that is where social responsibility comes in.
You will find that the largest corporations invest in their social responsibility, having dedicated departments or branches tasked to take care of matters relative to their social responsibility.
Further understanding of social responsibility will be facilitated once we learn the many reasons why businesses deem it to be very important.
- Social responsibility improves a company’s public image. Businesses are aware of the importance of the public, especially their target audience, having a positive perception of them. Of course, their social responsibility, first and foremost, is deliver good value for money and provide high quality products and services, followed by providing good after-sales support, customer service, involvement in advocacies and civic causes, and generally performing acts that demonstrate how the company cares – about their customers, the environment, and the society as a whole. If you notice, companies with good social responsibility policies get more and better media coverage, so that is already one way to advertise their company. Getting good press through doing good works is considered by businesses to be one of the best ways to advertise the company.
- Social responsibility improves a company’s profit margins. By being socially responsible, a company demonstrates that it incorporates ethical practices in how it does business. Customers are becoming increasingly aware about local, national and global issues, and there is no denying that their buying decisions are now being greatly influenced by these issues. Therefore, they tend to buy more from companies that show their concern and their action over issues that also resonate greatly with the customers.
- Social responsibility allows an organization to nurture its assets, which include goodwill, trust and a good reputation. Businesses regard their good name and their brand to be one of their most valuable assets and, by showing that they take their social responsibility seriously, they are also encouraging the public to take them seriously.
In a recent study, it was revealed that consumers are much more willing to spend money on the products and services of a company that has proven itself to be socially responsible. In fact, 45% of consumers demonstrate this willingness, not even minding that they have to pay more, as long as it is with a company that they trust due, in large part, to their social responsibility measures.
- Social responsibility improves an organization’s dynamics. A company’s workforce, for example, is inclined to feel more motivated to put in their best at work when they know they are contributing to the greater good. Social responsibility definitely helps in boosting the morale of employees; this, in turn, does wonders in increasing their productivity.
- Social responsibility contributes to the improvement of communities and providing solutions to social problems in society. This is in connection with the foregone conclusion that everyone – individuals and entities alike – have a responsibility to society. There is a moral obligation inherent in everyone, and companies are not exempt in doing their part.
- Social responsibility increases a company’s attractiveness to investors. Potential investors also look into a company’s social responsibility, using it as one of their criteria in deciding whether to put money into the company or not. It is also instrumental in improving companies’ stock prices, since it inspires confidence among associates and business partners.
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND BRANDING
Among the several benefits of social responsibility discussed above, let us focus on how it affects a company’s branding. It has been established that social responsibility is an excellent way for a company to build its brand and reputation.
When we speak of branding for companies and businesses, the first thing that comes to mind involves the use of a logo, a tag line, and a name unique to that entity. After all, branding has one end goal: creating a differentiated name and image for a company, business, organization, product, or service.
Branding, in this context, involves using social responsibility to create that differentiation. Instead of a specific name or a logo, it uses an entity’s social responsibility program, which is demonstrated through various relevant actions. These actions will then establish the company’s presence in the minds of the consumers and the general public, as a whole.
According to business experts, a company’s brand is its promise. It represents what the company can deliver to their customers, and what the customers can expect from the company’s products and services. It embodies their customers’ perception of them.
If you look at the brand management strategies of various companies, one thing is constant: they advertise. They spend on their marketing campaigns. They put out promotional materials and perform promotional activities to put their name out there. They tap into various distribution channels in order to increase their visibility. The more effort they put into it, the higher their brand equity becomes.
Showing that they have a strong social responsibility policy in place has been seen as a very effective way of generating positive press for companies. The media pays more attention to them and they become instrumental in letting a wider audience know about the company’s “good works”. It is, for all intents and purposes, a way to advertise the company.
Social responsibility also sets the companies apart from their competitors, but only when done right. Businesses treat their reputation as their brand, and the best way to nurture their good reputation is to put more efforts in improving their corporate social responsibility.
HOW TO USE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY TO IMPROVE YOUR BRAND
One brand that has been repeatedly lauded for its social responsibility efforts is Microsoft. It has dipped its fingers in many pies, so to speak, working with governments, non-profit organizations, investors, and even educational institutions. It has partnered up with hundreds of thousands of small to medium-sized businesses all over the world. It also has a thriving volunteer program, where employees of the company devoted certain hours to causes that they personally care about.
Loyalty and trust of customers are what businesses are most after for their brands to be successful and enduring. Indeed, customers tend to be loyal to brands that stick to them for all the right and positive reasons.
Anything that puts the company and its name in a positive light is bound to increase its brand equity. But how can you put social responsibility to full use and maximize its benefits for your brand?
A. Choose the right cause or advocacy.
You have to pick a specific social responsibility program. Do not be random about it. It has to be the right program for your business, and clearly aligned with your organizational vision and goals.
The cause must have a logical tie to your business. For instance, an automobile manufacturing company may pick an environmental cause with focus on clean air. A pharmaceutical company may choose a health advocacy in third-world countries. A building contractor company may also opt to send some of its workers to provide volunteer hours at local shelters, doing repairs and maintenance services.
Google, the technology giant, chose renewable energy as the focus of its CSR, through its Google Green program. The program’s advocacy is on the efficient use of resources and renewable power.
Another good example is the undertaking by ice cream brand Haagen-Dazs. It chose to raise awareness on the issue of honeybees disappearing rapidly. What it did is to allot a certain portion of the proceeds from the sales of its honeybee brand, and donated the amount to research on how to prevent honeybees from disappearing altogether. Aside from launching an information campaign on Twitter, Haagen-Dazs also set up a microsite talking about the issue.
B. Get everyone – including customers – involved.
Social responsibility may be an initiative of the management, but implementation is a collective effort. Every member of the organization must be involved, since it also demonstrates a united front. Involving the employees and other members of the organization in the process will boost their morale and add enthusiasm as they go about their work. It is true what they say: happy employees are productive employees.
Your employees may also turn out to be one of your best ambassadors, a declaration that was readily made even by Microsoft. You will be surprised at how many brilliant ideas you can get from your employees regarding ways on how to improve on your company’s social responsibility program. Getting them involved also means that you no longer have to outsource people to do your social responsibility work for you. Your employees will be more than happy to do the work themselves, as long as you motivate and encourage them enough.
Printing giant Xerox did not limit itself to donating and supporting various charitable programs. It also devised its Community Involvement Program, which directly involved Xerox employees in its community-oriented activities. This resulted to the company earning a lot of recognition and acknowledgment from communities. By allotting a substantial amount for employees’ participation in the activities, the employees had a higher level of commitment to the company.
One common example of how companies involve their customers is how retail stores encourage customers to donate to a cause, and offering to match the amount or gift that the customers give. In Microsoft’s case, it conducted the Employee Giving Campaign in 2012, where it encouraged its employees to make contributions, which the company pledged to match. This resulted to more than $1 billion collected and donated to around 30,000 non-profit organizations around the world.
It is also a good idea to turn your customers into partners. Engage them to actively participate in your social responsibility activities. By appealing to their individual conscience, you will also be encouraging them to do their part and exercise their individual social responsibility.
C. Use social media for your CSR efforts.
Social marketing has become an essential part of most companies’ marketing campaigns, and why not? Social media platforms have enabled businesses to have a wider reach, and this is also a great opportunity to introduce its altruistic efforts. In recognition of the power of social media, management even creates social media teams within their ranks, and they are responsible for managing their social media accounts.
These social media accounts are the perfect avenues to share the company’s CSR stories. That way, even if the media is not able to cover it, there is still an effective way to let the public know about the company’s social responsibility efforts.
They key word here is “active”. The company should actively use social media in order to increase awareness about the company’s social responsibility activities and, at the same time, increase brand equity.
If you take a look at the CSR program of Molson Coors Canada, you will immediately notice how actively it makes use of social media, particularly Twitter and blogging. They have a social media team in place to manage their Twitter account and the content presented in tweets. The team is also in charge of all the content appearing on the blog, zeroing in on Molson Coors CSR activities, such as the Responsible Drinking Program, which aims to educate drinkers.
D. Talk about your social responsibility, but don’t boast about it.
Here, a certain degree of subtlety is required. There is a thin line between humbly speaking about what you do for others and pumping your chest proudly and announcing to the world just how generous and benevolent you are.
This is often a sore point among companies. Social responsibility is supposed to reflect the company in a light where they are doing good for the sake of doing good, not because they expect to gain something monetary from it. Customers tend to get turned off and disappointed when they see a company that lauds its accomplishments too much. Self-praise is good, but it must be done tastefully. What you want is to improve your customer’s perception of your brand, not to turn them away because you were rubbing your benevolence in their faces way too much.
E. Make sure your social responsibility program reflects your brand.
Let’s start with how the social responsibility is worded or presented. It must coincide with your brand messaging, meaning it should have a link or connection to your brand attributes. How you carry out your CSR activities should also integrate the brand, even from the way the team communicates with the community or recipients of the CSR. Even the materials used in your CSR should also, as much as possible, use the same look and feel, in order to encourage instant recall among those who see it. Make it possible for them to easily associate your CSR with your brand.
Now here is a question asked by many businesses: can small companies – even one-man and two-man operations – have their own social responsibility programs?
Of course. CSR is not limited to donating money or other material items. Even a number of hours of doing volunteer work will do, and are likely to be instrumental in helping their brand – small, though it is – gain recognition.
Perhaps the most important ingredient in using social responsibility to improve your brand is sincerity. There must be truth in the press releases and media coverage that your CSR activities generate. Just like you have to be truthful in the information you put out in your traditional ad campaigns, you also have to maintain integrity when you use CPR to manage your reputation.