There are plenty of valid reasons why every business or brand should invest in a CSR strategy. Many use it to raise their company profile, help with branding and form a strong corporate culture. In turn, this can raise the brand's profile or improve its reputation.
And while many use it to raise their company profile and help with branding, CSR has to align with existing brand values and help guide the business or brand in the right direction.
Besides an existing moral obligation, it can also create satisfaction among both customers and employees.
If you let people know about your responsibilities, and how you're taking care of them, it can give you competitive advantage and be a major factor in influencing customers' purchasing decisions.
It's becoming increasingly common for consumers to research the brands they already buy from, and identify new businesses that they deem ethical. A CSR scheme or initiative might help keep your current customers and attract new ones, especially in markets that are becoming increasingly sensitive to ethical practices.
In recent years, we've seen the cosmetics industry come under fire for animal testing, and some fashion retailers, including Urban Outfitters, took a hit for their use of Angora rabbit fur in 2015. It's fair to say that consumers are becoming more aware of business practice and ethical standards.
For employees, a company's work culture and their involvement with causes and projects can make all the difference. If you have people working for causes they believe in, or at least respect, the whole team will be working towards a mutual goal.
Additionally, studies such as a recent survey from insurer Aflac
, have also found that some companies adapt or promote their CSR strategies specifically to attract millennials and retain them, as the millennial workforce want to work for ethical companies. If you're looking to take on the next generation of talent, then CSR is something you need to focus on.
But how does CSR directly affect your communications strategy?
Some companies' reputations revolve around CSR strategy, such as The Body Shop's stance on animal testing, or TOMS' "one for one"? motto, and other businesses use social responsibility as an injection of something new. While no CSR strategy should be created purely for the PR opportunities, it is one of the many benefits.
When using an appropriate CSR strategy, here are some of the positive ways it can affect your communications:
A new CSR initiative gives you something new to talk about. Your new discussion might take place on a few different platforms. For internal communications, this could mean employee newsletters, and for public platforms, your company blog or press coverage.
Your existing target media titles, such as magazines that cover your industry or speak to your target audience, might be interested in a new scheme. As an example, huge fashion retailers' new ethical collections make great articles in high-end fashion magazines.
Alternatively, a magazine that looks at how your industry can become more sustainable as a whole might discuss your operations or move towards sustainability.
Your new content, and the meaningful communication it creates, may mean your audience is easily influenced by marketing messages, as they see you as a trustworthy brand. This could potentially affect business goals, improving ROI and growing brand engagement.
The combination of new things to talk about and the new discussions taking place naturally creates a new audience, therefore a wider reach. The readers of the new magazine your news has been published in, or those who have actively read up on your new initiative, are now aware of your company and your responsible efforts. They might be interested in your business and are aware of some of your objectives, whether it be a move towards sustainability or a positive impact on the local community.
This new content and discussion around your brand or business means you have a wider audience to talk to, therefore more people to receive your brand messages. It might even create the potential for a meaningful communication with your audience, as you're talking about something that impacts your consumers.
All this positive interaction ultimately has the potential to increase sales and grow your customer base.
It's easy to spot a brand that attempts to use CSR purely to boost publicity. A brand that starts a new partnership with someone who isn't quite the right fit, or to half-heartedly seem like they're trying to make a difference, is pointless, as canny consumers will spot the spin a mile off.
Ultimately, any new initiatives or strategies need to be organic and a natural fit in order to work well - from both a general business and communications perspective.
A move towards CSR doesn't have to be a huge step. It might be making efforts to use sustainable materials and suppliers, or using ethical contractors, rather than implementing a new campaign. Either way, in my opinion the benefits of becoming more socially responsible far outweigh the costs.
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