Socially Responsible Branding: Why It Matters Plus 5 Suggestions

“Consumers vote with their wallets”, observes Brian Hughes, Founder and CEO of Integrity Marketing & Consulting. What are the ‘voting’ preferences right now? According to the 2015 Cone Communications / Ebiquity Global CSR Study, 84% of global consumers look for socially or environmentally responsible products every time they go shopping. 90% would stop buying products if they found out that a company lacks social responsibility or deceives them. 53% admitted that in the past year they had boycotted products or services of socially irresponsible brands. 80% would be willing to buy even an unknown brand product on condition it is strongly committed to social and environmental issues.

This online survey reflects consumer attitudes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the 9 largest economies in the world: the US, Canada, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, China, India and Japan. If the size of their GDPs is not enough to take the results seriously, consider the fact that the purchasing power of millennials – one of the most vocal consumer groups online – was already estimated at $2.45 trillion worldwide in 2015. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that it was “the largest generation in the American workforce” (35%) last year. This means that their ‘wallet votes’ will matter even more for years to come.

Brand marketers have realized that the growing social awareness of consumers can be utilized: they have started using CSR programmes to differentiate their brands. If a company takes actions which benefit society, it is more likely to get positive press. Every media report reduces the costs of marketing campaigns. The more the company is known for its good deeds, the more competitive it becomes.

Although CSR has been on branding agendas for long enough, building a socially responsible brand is still a challenge. There is no universal approach: you cannot just simply copy someone’s idea hoping that it will also work in your case. You need to find your own way. Don’t know where to start? Here are some suggestions:

1. Advocate social issues relevant to your business. If your CSR programme reflects the area of your expertise and business interests, its execution will be much simpler and more effective. It will be easier to take the right course of action in a given situation to create long-lasting social value. If you provide a solution to causes you support, you are establishing your reputation as an expert in your field. The more positive social projects you accomplish, the more recognizable and trusted your brand will be. It is some sort of branding investment: the more you invest in society, the bigger return on investment (ROI) your brand will generate. 

2. Turn your customers into brand advocates and partners. The 2015 Cone Communications / Ebiquity Global CSR Study shows that 47% of global customers had told their family and friends about a company’s CSR efforts in the past year, while 80% declared a willingness to do so. The mismatch between the figures signals that there is still a lot of untapped potential in customer advocacy. To make use of it, you need to establish closer contact with customers so they would be more willing to put in a good word for you within their social circles. You will achieve the best results if you engage them in your prosocial activities. If your cooperation goes well, you will get committed partners: they will be more willing to advocate social causes they care about and to show their own initiative.

3. Make sure your CSR programme actually helps. The “Buy One, Give One” model is considered as one of the most effective brand marketing techniques. Customers can easily connect with a brand which donates its products to disadvantaged people. They can better visualize the act of giving a material thing than donating part of a company’s profits for research. This model has one significant limitation: it does not reduce the level of poverty, but actually preserves it. There is no long-lasting positive effect: it creates dependency on donations, and does not encourage entrepreneurial initiatives, which in the long run does not improve the living standards at all or even harms the local economy.

4. Don’t build your brand around customer guilt. There is another controversial trend in branding: some brand marketers are exploiting the concept of CSR to increase sales. For them, helping others is more of a positive side effect than one of the priorities. Their marketing campaigns are based on the principle “The more customers feel guilty, the better”. There is a lot of manipulation: customers are shamed that they are better off and brainwashed that they have to buy to help others. There is a better option: to raise customers’ awareness of a contribution they can make and to highlight its social value. If they decide to buy a product to support a good cause, it will be a truly positive shopping experience.

5. Think glocally. Your CSR programme should address social issues from local and global perspectives. If you only focus on the needs of your community, the reach of our branding will be limited. All your accomplishments will be irrelevant to outsiders. They will not be able to connect with your brand. However, if you do not limit yourself to local needs and look further, you will realize that there is much more you can do. Every social project you will undertake outside your community will be increasing the visibility of your brand, and will help establish your market position globally. The more positive records you have in your profile, the more consumer trust and loyalty you will get in return.     

References:  [1] Brian Hughes, The Huffington Post / [2] 2015 Cone Communications / Ebiquity Global CSR Study / [3] Holly Ellyatt, CNBC / [4] US Bureau of Labor Statistics via Kate Meyer, Norman Group / [5] Martin, Cleverism