What do you think about when you hear the term corporate social responsibility (CSR)? There’s a lot of noise around this business opportunity, but a lot of business owners either view it as a passing fad or an unnecessary external pressure. However, the truth is that it’s very important to the overall health of your organization — especially from a marketing and branding perspective.
The Link Between CSR and Brand Equity
When you bring up the idea of CSR in a room full of business executives, you’re bound to get a variety of responses. Some will reveal that they actually know very little about it, while others will go on a spiel about all of the wonderful things their company is doing to better society. You’ll also have those who are skeptical about the return on investment in CSR.
By one definition, “Corporate Social Responsibility is an ethical management concept where companies aim to integrate social, economic and environmental concerns along with the consideration of human rights into their business operations.”
This definition is particularly relevant because it touches on just how far-reaching a CSR program can be. It’s not just about partnering with an NPO or sponsoring a local charity. It’s about creating tangible change — socially, economically, and environmentally.
While the underlying purpose of CSR is to advance a specific cause that benefits society, don’t be fooled into thinking that it can’t also have a positive impact on your own company. A strategically developed, properly implemented CSR program can directly enhance a brand’s ability to create and maintain a positive image in the consumer marketplace.
Don’t feel bad if you have profits on your mind whenever you approach the subject of CSR — you aren’t alone. “One of the main reasons companies engage in socially responsible behavior is the possible financial gain that can come from it,” management expert Timothy Creel explains. “Recent studies show that companies engaging in socially responsible behavior tend to show long-term financial gains and increases in value.”
CSR is very much a long-term play, however. Companies tend to show financial losses in the first three years. It isn’t until 36 or 48 months down the road that benefits begin to kick in. But when they do, the impact can be instrumental in terms of marketing and branding.
The reason why CSR builds brand equity is largely psychological. As Creel notes, “Positive feelings are related to social approval and self-respect. Brands that evoke positive feelings make customers feel better about themselves.” Remember that most purchases aren’t about satisfying a need. Sure, there are instances where customers need products to survive, but most purchases are rooted in wants. When a company is able to tie a purchase that is otherwise seen as non-essential to something larger than the product, customers have an easier time validating the purchase in their minds.
Another branding-related benefit of CSR is the sense of community it creates. Creel points to how Lowe’s donates materials and provides volunteer hours to Habitat for Humanity, which allows the company to form connections in local communities. These connections fuel the brand’s image and result in better connectivity.
Ultimately, a commitment to serving others has an impact on sales. According to a survey from Better Business Journey, 88 percent of customers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities that improve society.
Three Companies Getting CSR Right
Lowe’s was already mentioned, but what other companies are getting CSR right?
1. Kitchen Cabinet Kings
Environmental sustainability is a big focus right now and Kitchen Cabinet Kings is doing a phenomenal job of positioning its brand for the future by aligning the company’s sales with the Plant a Tree Campaign. For every full kitchen purchased, the company plants a tree in one of the 155 National Forests in the United States.
“We think a tree planting is a great way to thank you for your business while giving back to our planet,” the company explains. “Our hope is that as this tree grows, so does our relationship.”
It might seem like a small thing, but when it comes to choosing between Kitchen Cabinet Kings and a competitor, something as simple as supporting sustainability can make a big difference.
The popular supermarket chain Kroger has long been involved with CSR programs. As the company explains, “We have built a strong foundation based upon the commitment of our associates to serve each and every customer every day, and our promise to be good stewards of our communities and our planet. We know that trust is earned and we never take for granted the trust and confidence of our associates, customers, suppliers, communities and other stakeholders.”
Specifically, Kroger partners with companies and groups that fight world hunger, support women’s health, and provide for military members and their families. They also have initiatives in place that relate to the environment, supply chain, and local economies.
3. Delta Airlines
In an industry where companies are often blasted by frustrated customers, Delta seems to be doing something right on the CSR front. The focus of Delta’s CSR programs, which center on reducing carbon emissions and encouraging environmental sustainability, is on improving transparency.
Delta also asks a lot of its employees, who are heavily involved in Delta Force for Global Good. The fact that Delta employees are also committed to the company’s CSR goals is something that appeals to many customers.
Give Your Brand a Boost With CSR
The benefits of CSR are plentiful. While a CSR program should have a positive influence on the people, groups, or communities that are directly affected by the actions, it’s also becoming abundantly clear that CSR is a strong marketing and branding play.
If your brand is looking for a boost, CSR may be the answer.
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