CSR Connections

Corporate social responsibility and your brand

I recently attended the Engage for Good conference in Atlanta. It brought together an impressive group of social impact leaders from across the world who were there to discuss and collaborate on how corporate and nonprofit leaders can make the world a better place to live. I met some new people and picked up on a couple of trends along the way. 

CSR is your brand

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grown from obscurity inside boardrooms into the public light over recent decades. As the term reached a larger audience, it expanded in definition and practice. Once primarily related to the siloed charitable giving programs of larger corporations, CSR now encompasses a broader following of practitioners who envision a more holistic approach to running an organization. An approach that considers all the stakeholders of the business and its community and includes not only charitable giving but the for-profit activities of an enterprise. 

CSR is becoming an essential lens into the brand. We have watched this trend develop over the last decade in our work with CSR leaders on naming, brand identity, and brand launch for programs. 

It’s not all about altruism

Corporate social responsibility isn’t solely about doing something because you think it’s the right thing to do. A CSR program is often the best business decision because it is an essential part of your brand. Likewise, when communicating your impact to internal or external audiences, the most effective message is not always the most virtuous. It is okay to appeal to your audience's more pragmatic side. 

For example, P&G’s laundry team wanted to reduce the amount of energy washing cycles used with their detergent brands. Their goal was to get their customers to wash their clothes on the cold water setting. Their cold water campaign was about an environmental impact, but their communication strategy also focused on consumer savings, which turned out to be effective at creating change. Everyone wants to save money. 

Don’t be the hero

Storytelling is becoming increasingly important in brand communications. As CSR and brand leaders, it is tempting to think about social impact issues through the lens of your brand solving problems at the center of the storyline. But your brand shouldn’t always be the hero. 

First off, it gets boring. If you are the hero in every story, you are using the same story arch, and your audience will eventually tire. But when your brand plays a supporting role, you open an more authentic avenue that celebrates the journey of those you are impacting. Focusing on people and their stories creates variety and is more relatable.

Look in to look out

When you are looking for how to focus your social impact efforts, it can be tempting to follow the headlines. Looking at what is happening inside your organization is an important first step. Especially if you are doing impact work for the long haul. Start with your own employees. What do they care about? What are their concerns? If your programs and campaigns do not align with your culture and workers, you will not succeed or be authentic. 

With the support of your employees, you will fare much better when criticism comes from the outside. Bruce Simpson of McKinsey & Company spoke about this at the Engage for Good conference. “Take care of your workers. They will take care of your customers. Customers will take care of your business.” 

If you are a brand considering incorporating impact into your culture and business and need help getting started, we would love to talk to you. As we often say, we aren’t looking for perfect clients but people who are trying to do better.

Tim Harris
Tim Harris
New Business

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