Over the past few years, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a buzzword among brands—companies want consumers to know that, in both big and small ways, they are giving back to the community. Millennials are increasingly interested in CSR efforts, and brands are responding in kind. More and more studies show that people not only want to work for socially responsible organizations, but they are willing to do more—and spend more—to support companies that are committed to positive social impact. Whether it be brands that use environmentally sustainable packaging for their products, companies that employ carbon offset programs or corporations that provide money and other support for worthy causes, such as Red Nose Day (which works toward ending childhood poverty), consumers are taking notice.
A prominent fundraiser in the U.K. for decades, Red Nose Day debuted in America in 2015 and raised $32 million for charity this year in its sophomore effort on May 26.
While many brands are playing catch-up when it comes to contributing to the greater good, leading brands are focused on embedding strong positive values into the fabric of their identity. To help establish a brand as socially responsible, here are a few key factors brand managers need to keep in mind:
Stand for causes related to your brand.
Make sure your brand’s social impact is meaningful to consumers and to your brand itself. If civic engagement is at the heart of what your brand stands for, be sure it follows through on its promise in actionable ways. Carefully consider the impact of your brand’s CSR efforts. Will they displace existing infrastructures or industries in the community they’re giving back to? Will your efforts create any kind of backlash from other brands or from community groups? Remember to weigh your brand’s message for sincerity, impact and how much it truly reflects your brand as a whole.
Walgreens has done an excellent job considering these factors with its CSR program. As a brand focused on “the corner of happy and healthy,” Walgreens knows that caring about the health of its community is core to its brand identity. As the exclusive retailer of Red Nose Day’s signature clown snouts, the company accounted for $18 million of the total sum raised for the event.
With initiatives like Red Nose Day, Walgreens emphasizes community health by raising awareness and funds to help prevent child poverty. This CSR brand extension is very natural for Walgreens and fits well with its tone and message, and it follows through on the brand’s promise to look out for the well-being of its consumers.
Don’t just do good, be good.
Know that your brand is a citizen of the world and act accordingly. The global business community has a responsibility to be a positive force, so you should center your brand’s philosophy on this principle from the outset. Hone the idea of what your brand’s purpose is, and weave that into its mission for positive social impact.
Eyeglass manufacturer Warby Parker upended the eyewear market not just by offering stylish frames at dramatically lower prices, but also by integrating social enterprise into the fabric of its brand with a buy-one-give-one model that provides eyewear to low-income individuals in need. By making this a cornerstone of the brand from its inception, the company deftly threaded CSR into the conversation around its brand, and it thrives in large part as a result. This is the kind of socially responsible branding that consumers respond well to—that which defines its core values as not just what it can offer or sell, but what it can provide and give back.
Make your actions actionable.
When it comes to CSR, getting consumers involved is key. This allows the social impact to be much greater and creates stronger resonance with consumers. Ritz-Carlton’s Community Footprints program organizes impact experiences in each of its hotels, allowing guests to participate in activities that benefit the local communities. By getting consumers involved in CSR efforts, companies can increase their brand’s impact by creating much stronger engagement.
Don’t just pay lip service to social responsibility.
Consumers are constantly weighing a brand’s value in relation to its likability and social conscience, and they can see through any attempts at shallow civic engagement. For brands, this means that quietly promoting CSR efforts is important—being too forthright about social action can make a brand’s efforts feel like a ploy to gain new customers. If consumers believe in a brand and its social missions, they voice opinions on social media and talk about it person-to-person, acting as on-the-street brand advocates. Establishing genuine, thoughtful CSR efforts that your brand can unobtrusively support is important because it can help encourage a ripple effect with consumers.
There’s a big difference between rallying behind a cause and standing for one: It’s about following a trend and playing catch-up versus embedding social responsibility into the values of your brand. By championing strong CSR efforts that fundamentally tie into your brand’s values, you can help your brand be a force for good and a first choice for consumers.