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Why CSR should be big, even for the smallest of brands

Still, too often, Corporate Social Responsibility is just an afterthought, instead of being seen as something that is of vital importance to both brand and society. But slowly companies of all sizes are beginning to understand CSR should go hand in hand with brand strategy; right from the very start.

Caring is sharing

More and more, consumers are putting their money where their heart is. They buy products from companies that actively commit to their workers’ welfare, to the local community, the environment, human rights around the globe. TV news, social media and other networks turn far-away strangers into cause-related friends.

Businesses finally understand that consumers not only want to feel good about their purchase but also need to appreciate and share the story behind what they’ve just bought. A positive social impact that is clearly connected to the core of your brand can definitely make a big difference for your business: contributing to your consumers’ brand loyalty, your company’s credibility and your co-workers’ involvement.

How? Be true to your core.

How, then, to create a match made in heaven? By adopting a CSR approach that is true to the core of your brand. Of course, several possibilities already present themselves inside a company.

By improving products and services, by offering know-how to aid organizations, or by developing ‘products that do good’. The Indian company Savlon, for example, created Healthy Chalk Sticks that turn into soap (under running water) so that millions of children are learning to wash their hands.

By ameliorating the production process, like e.g Chipotle Mexican Grill does, working to ‘cultivate a better world’.

By decreasing the environmental impact of your production. By stimulating staff members to actively contribute to CSR-activities. By carefully selecting suppliers, and more. Fashion brand Known Supply has its clothes fabricated in Peru, Uganda and India. The workers there not only receive decent wages, but they are also asked to inscribe their name on the labels, allowing buyers to directly connect with the person behind the garment.

Inside out / outside in

But CSR is not only an ‘inside’ story. Think of Zappos for Good, an initiative that perfectly matches the online shoe retailer’s brand mission to ‘spread happiness and celebrate the good in people’. No wonder they support Soles4Souls (shoes) but also partner with the Kids in Need Foundation — ‘School Supplies. Changing Lives.’

To address the problem of visual impairment, online retailer of prescription glasses Warby Parker works with a handful of worldwide partners to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need. Furthermore, they provide training opportunities and give vision care to schoolchildren. Tom’s Shoes adopts a similar approach. Tom’s Eyewear provides eye care to children in 13 countries. Tom’s Roasting Company (coffee) gives people in 6 countries access to safe drinking water. And Tom’s Bag Collection contributes to the training of midwifes in developing countries.

The pay-off

Even though these initiatives are closely linked to the brands, these companies all collaborate with trusted charities that match their brand’s core, vision and mission. Next to the obvious benefit of being able to tap into the expertise of these organizations, this choice will create trust in your CSR-activities and increase the appreciation of all concerned: consumers, clients, suppliers, business partners, and the general public. It will positively influence their opinion about the sincerity and the credibility of your company. Definitely, if your effort is not a one-off but a continued, sustainable effort, showing true commitment.

Be part of the solution.

Brands that stand for something make customers feel like they are part of the solution. People no longer just want to collect insights or experiences from the brands they stick by; they are seeking personal growth from authentic ‘human’ brands. And, more and more, they are expecting companies and brands to take a stand in societal issues that matter to them.

“People are seeking personal growth from authentic ‘human’ brands.”

Uber offers a communication platform to the LGBTQ community, allowing the general public to discover the story of people from that community that work for or with Uber.

From day one, outdoor clothing & gear brand Patagonia has taken a very outspoken position on environmental issues. And they have been walking the talk forever since.

Nike supported former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, after he was banned from American Football as a consequence of his protest against police violence and racial inequality. The ad, with Kaepernick’s portrait and the headline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”, perfectly communicated Nike’s support to ‘one of the most inspiring athletes of his generation, who uses the power of sport to make the world a better place’. And it seamlessly connects to Nike’s credo: Just do it.

How to succeed?

Risky business, it seems, as not all customers will appreciate your organization’s point of view and, in some cases, even actively turn away from your brand. 

  1. Authority and authenticity
    However, if your company delivers its message with authority and authenticity, the people that agree with or at least understand the action will feel more affinity with your brand and will show stronger brand loyalty in the future.
  2. Obvious fit between brand and cause
    If the ‘fit’ between your brand and the chosen cause is self-explanatory, your company will be much less subject to criticism about the intrinsic motives for its choice. On the contrary: with a clear ‘fit’, CSR-commitment will be appreciated as an integral part of your brand instead of being seen as an arbitrary compensation for business as usual.

Of course, your company’s resulting good reputation can lead to an increased purchase intention (actual and future customers). But, more importantly, it will improve customer loyalty and make your company more attractive as an employer. Moreover, it can decrease the negative effect of eventual problems.

Communication is key

The first prerequisite, however, to turn CSR into a win-win situation is to communicate the story behind the selected CSR-activities. All too often, stakeholders are not at all in the know about the CSR-activities of the business they are dealing with. The success of an organization’s CSR largely depends on its sincerity and credibility. If an organization succeeds in creating a true match between its CSR-activities and its own brand core, a consistent and convincing story will be the result. This way CSR turns into a winning choice for all. Your company, your brand, your customers, and the world.