Work, Insights, OpinionPOSTED January 31, 2020

CSR and the magnitude that brands are reaching in the fight to stand out

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BGCC 2-Rohini CSR

I had the privilege of being a judge for the 2019 Canadian Marketing Awards, and I have to say the most inspiring category of entries I judged were cause-related marketing efforts.

Cause marketing has become trendier in the last several years because brands recognize that consumers – millennials and Gen Z in particular – often consider a brand’s values before buying. For a long time, CSR didn’t need to align with a company’s business plan or offering.

But that is changing. In order to be successful today, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programming has to evolve from being an annual donation or sponsorship to living within the core business strategy. As a key ingredient in business strategy and execution, this sense of purpose beyond the bottom line is playing a central role in helping corporations to be seen as leaders. Smart leaders are rightly making room in their overall corporate spend for CSR investments that feature clear objectives and deliver measurable social outcomes.

CSR has to be a part of any successful company’s business plan, but let’s be honest: a number of brands are failing to give CSR a proper seat at the table. They resort to self-serving programming, diving in where their competitors are and therefore losing share of voice, or seeing CSR as a marketing tactic, instead of finding ways to weave it through the overall marketing mix.

When I look at the good, bad and the ugly in cause marketing, these key measures for success stand out:

1. Pick a cause related to your brand’s core mission – There have been too many examples of CSR programs that ignore business fundamentals. A strong CSR strategy should be tied to your company’s overall goals and brand. For instance, apart from the obvious empathy factor, it makes sound business sense for an insurer, whose role it is to keep its customers safe, to advocate around road safety.

2. Play the long game – It typically takes years for a social commitment to be internalized by your target audience, and become linked with your brand. It is important to manage internal expectations around seeing business results in year one. If you can get the C-suite on side, the results will certainly be worth the wait.

3. Walk the talk – Any CSR initiative will be longer-lived and more powerful if it transcends corporate communications. Instead, develop CSR initiatives that make your employees proud. The most successful programs with the largest impact strategically align social impact with the company’s core competencies and weave it into corporate culture. For instance, when Planet Fitness forged a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada as part of its mission to eliminate judgement and spread kindness, it invited its employees to get in on the programming. Sharing your initiatives publicly is a great way to catch the eyes of potential clients, partners or talent.

4. Baby steps – A new CSR campaign can be set up for failure if expectations and scale are too grandiose at the outset. It’s far better to start with a manageable program, say, in a local market, before rolling out a larger campaign. This approach also allows you to gather learnings and tweak your programming before it is seen by a larger audience.

Rohini Mukherji is a Vice President at Apex Public Relations

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