The notion for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) started to develop in the second half of the 20th century, and since then different conceptions have surrounded this much-hyped word.
Therefore, before beginning I would like to ask our readers to think about CSR for five seconds and write down the first three words that come to their mind.
………. Do any of the words like NGO association, donation, sponsorship and reducing carbon footprint make it to your list?
IF No, well then you have found the right place to enlighten yourselves (just kidding).
IF Yes, then I will say you are partially correct but some deeper clarification is always beneficial, isn’t it?
Thus, we will start briefly by clarifying the concept ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and then we will proceed towards understanding how to market brands the CSR way.
So what exactly is CSR?
Nowadays, we see companies commonly engaging in two types of activities: Sponsoring and Donations.
While sponsoring is majorly done for marketing purposes, a donation may be a one- time selfless act. But then aren’t these one-off activities just an act of corporate philanthropy; which in turn is solely done for the core promotion of the company? So, how do we differentiate Philanthropy from CSR?
Well, Philanthropy is just a small ingredient of CSR, whereas CSR is a thought as to how to manage an organization responsibly on a day-to-day basis. It is an attitude which cannot be obtained by one-offs like sponsorships and donations. CSR must be embedded into the company’s vision and values and must not be restrained by an organizations financial capability.
Hence, CSR is about organizations behaving responsibly not only with the consumers, but also with its employees, its suppliers, the local groups and its surrounding environment; who are all the stakeholders of the organization.
Establishing effective and transparent supplier-client relationship, improving work-space quality for employees, bringing out innovative products for consumers and improving the overall standard of living of the society are all CSR activities.
It is a shift from maximizing profits to optimizing them and in the process moving towards sustainable development, and doing all this beyond what the law requires them to do!
Now the question arises-
How to market brands the CSR way?
Marketing is defined as identifying and meeting human and social needs profitably. A company can market goods the CSR way by shifting from a top-down strategy to a more indirect bottom-up strategy of co-creation with stakeholders.
In today’s world consumers not only ‘need’ new and innovative products; but also ‘want’ organizations to act in a responsible manner to fulfill their needs. The stakeholders have psychological needs which are in the form of self-esteem and pride which they enjoy from being related to a socially responsible company. Once an organization fulfills these, it can engage in relationship marketing which will build mutually satisfying long term relationships with these stakeholders.
CSR can be effectively used to change a basic and expected product to an augmented product i.e. a product which exceeds consumer expectations.
A new study led by Drexel University examines how front-line employees respond to CSR activities such as charitable givings, environmental programs and ethical practices . It was found that CSR motivated employees in an entirely different way. If an employee believes that customers have same excitement about the company’s CSR, it can act as an ice-breaker and make conversations easy. Employees become more confident since they know about the needs of the customers, therefore leading to better performance and in turn better customer satisfaction
Take the example of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative started in 2010 to empower young women entrepreneurs. The program aims at bringing 5 million women by 2020 as local bottlers and distributors of Coca-Cola products. Such an investment has had a multiplier effect which has not only educated the masses but also increased the company’s revenues. So, the next time when you drink a Can of Coca-Cola, won’t you feel self-confident about being associated with a company which is socially aware? Yes, you will and so will all the other stakeholders.
Hence, CSR activities help an organization in updating its Marketing Mix and include People, Process, Program and Performance in its overall marketing program, and all this helps it in defining the appropriate point of difference(POD) i.e. attributes that consumers strongly relate to a particular brand thus, helping it to stand apart from the competition.
This is exactly what Toyota did when it launched its Toyota Prius. It enabled consumers to associate Toyota to a manufacturer of cleaner, greener, efficient cars; while helping it score some CSR brownie points at the same time, and in today’s electronic age these initiatives can easily be tweeted and re-tweeted enhancing a brands reputation by positive word-of-mouth.
Companies that will innovate solutions in a socially responsible manner will be more likely to succeed and the ones which will ‘communicate‘ these values correctly to the target group are the ones that will leave a long-lasting effect on the community.
All these attributes when joined together will create a Value Proposition which will supersede all consumer expectations and make selling superfluous and that is what the ultimate goal of marketing is, Isn’t it?