Is CSR the Key to Sustainable Relevance?

By | June 4, 2012

When I sit and catch up with my colleagues from all of our practice areas there is a universal challenge our clients are facing:  how to be relevant, and stay relevant, amidst the noise.  As companies and brands seize the opportunity to use communications to advance their business goals – whether promoting a product, increasing brand awareness, building reputation or attracting the best talent – our 24/7 information environment has turned into a proverbial shouting match of content, news and conversation.

It isn’t enough to matter.  You need to matter more.

It all boils down to good citizenship – and it’s the commitment, more than the cause.  Creating an authentic culture, from the inside out. Having a social purpose that is more than about making money, but making change and improving lives. That’s what is going to matter over the long haul.

When it comes to using CSR to create relevance, how can you be sure to get it right?

  1. Alignment: Your purpose should be aligned with your business mission, and make people feel good about the experience of your product.

There are some great examples of companies doing this well: Starbucks and Chipotle have a similar approach – quality ingredients, sourced with integrity. As I wrote here, Starbucks’ investment in thriving communities and Chipotle’s Food with Integrity platform show CSR integration across every aspect of operations.

There are also a lot of clear misses: Remember when KFC partnered with Susan G. Komen to create pink “Buckets for the Cure”?  What was the purpose?  Sure, women buy chicken, and women hate breast cancer.  But the mission wasn’t aligned with cause.

Using your stores and your customer base to raise money for a cause is a good thing.  But it doesn’t automatically make you relevant.

  1. Staying Power: Plan to stick with this purpose for as long as you plan to be in business. The ways you do it can change, but the purpose doesn’t.

Nike’s brand promise has been to make their customers the best they can be – whether a professional athlete in training or running to the supermarket. Its CSR programs support that premise. Similarly, Seventh Generation’s cause is to inspire a more conscious and sustainable world. Their CSR platform looks to nurture not only this generation, but the health of the next seven.

To create any significant and long-lasting effects on the planet and communities – and stay relevant – companies must commit for the long-haul.

  1. Specificity: Platforms and umbrella branding are good things – it’s a great way to tie together all of the local, regional and national initiatives and give them broader meaning. The danger is when that umbrella becomes so big and broad that it no longer stands for anything. Specificity is what makes programs ownable and memorable.

GE does this well. Their corporate citizenship strategy is framed within two key pillars of energy and sustainable healthcare.  Within these pillars, GE has four clear support strategies, tied to their operational sweet spots: infrastructure, technology, financing and capacity building. Much like their business, it just makes sense. But even good companies can fall victim to diluted CSR strategy. Pharma has been criticized for CSR programs that are too broad and sometimes overly conceptual, making it difficult for consumers to see meaningful results and tangible impact.

Identifying what matters – truly – to your consumers and community and committing fully to that cause – that’s what will cut through the noise, and start a long-lasting conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

Be Sociable, Share!