Twenty years ago, when some companies were “printing money,” corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies were often developed as a way to deflect consumer attention away from big profits, write-off more expenses, and – in fairness to those who did – do good for the sake of society. Studies prove that CSR has a positive impact on a brand; increasing preference, loyalty, and engagement. The companies benefit, too, with less employee turnover and more revenue.
That was then. This is now, and CSR seems to have taken a back seat. Not saying it doesn’t exist, but it appears less visible and instrumental in brand strategies. There are probably good reasons for this; certainly digital media is highly targeted and therefore these types of initiatives are not as mainstream as they once were, markets are much more competitive and some brands can’t afford to spread budgets too thin, and senior marketing people are less willing to take risks and implement programs that don’t generate an immediate ROI. After all, CMO’s are the most volatile in the C-suite with an average tenure under five years and constantly feel the heat in terms of performance – and CSR initiatives can’t always be measured in weeks or months.
Beyond the economy and corporate performances, the world needs more CSR and it can do wonders for your brand relevance. We live in a time of social turmoil; whether it’s tragic mass shootings, political divide, acts of hatred and bullying, or just a general sense of uneasiness in our world. This is not a climate for strong brand “selling.” In fact, there are many audiences (i.e. Millennials) who don’t want to “buy.” They want to support, help, and heal. And your brand should focus on these initiatives, too.
Brand relevance is created not only on what’s important to your consumers lifestyles, but also what’s meaningful in their lives. Marketers have reacted well to changing lifestyles by recognizing today’s “family” is vastly different from 20 years ago and showcasing these different profiles in their communications strategies. But the opportunity exists to also recognize social trends and create CSR strategies around how your brand is helping the world or community in which it lives.
Take a stand. Have a POV. Make a case. Do more than “sell” your brand. Look for non-traditional ways to integrate your brand into the lives of your constituents, both inside and outside your organization. Years ago, a great client – Lehigh Valley Health Network – was willing to put its money where its heart was and developed and launched one of the nation’s first anti-texting/while driving campaigns. Using the theme, “Stop in the name of love,” the initiative underscored the dangers of distracted driving and created a multi-layered strategy including yard signs, community ed events, physician engagement, and traditional media to spread the word. Oh, they also were willing to invest in the Diana Ross’ music to make the effort more visible and memorable. Talk about being culturally relevant – engagement was never higher and the organization benefited from all the metrics; employee satisfaction, revenue, loyalty, you name it!
Bottom-line, CSR isn’t about the bottom line. It’s about creating a “heartbeat” for your brand. Using its strength of it to do good and make people feel better. And in today’s world, there’s nothing more culturally relevant than that.