This week on the Digital Millennial we've got Ten Tips to help build your brand identity with corporate responsibility initiatives. Need some brand design basics first? Check out last week's post for a basic brand awareness outline.
Corporate citizenship matters. It can make the difference between success and failure. Tom’s Shoes was Blake Mycoskie’s fifth startup.
While on a vacation to Argentina, he noticed something—actually, two somethings. First, he noticed a lot of people wearing what he determined to be the national shoe, a canvas slip-on called an alpargata. Second, he observed quite a few children with no shoes at all. The convergence of these two observations was the beginning of Tom’s Shoes, a for-profit company designed to give one pair of shoes for every pair sold. The shoes were well-liked on their own, but the “for-a-good-cause” story is what made Tom’s the successful company it is today. While not every company is born out of social activism, the story of Tom’s Shoes is inspirational for organizations focused on becoming socially responsible.
Corporate social responsibility—it’s quite a buzz word these days, one that comes with a grab bag of opportunities and potential missteps. When is the right time for your brand to get involved and how?
Sometimes called corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility (CSR) at its core is about businesses doing good because it’s the right thing to do AND because it’s good for company growth. “Doing well by doing good” is the oft-heard phrase.
Is CSR part of your brand’s strategy? If not, here are TEN REASONS why it should be:
1. YOUR CUSTOMERS
Knowing your target audience and delivering what they want is a huge piece of the strategic puzzle. A 2017 CSR study by Cone Communications showed that the majority of Americans really do care about how a brand supports social activism:
The numbers are even more dramatic when looking specifically at millennials. A 2015 Cone Communications study of CSR use specifically by millennials revealed that this demographic is overwhelmingly motivated to support causes and to support brands that are committed to bettering the world.
2. YOUR BRAND
If you need a straight-up business objective, Cause Marketing can help promote your brand. Prior to our official launch as an agency, KJMdigital raised awareness for MIT’s SOLVE campaign, an initiative to solve global challenges via innovation and partnership. Even a small CSR effort can raise awareness for a cause while also emphasizing your brand’s vision.
3. YOUR WORKERS
CSR attracts and keeps employees. According to the Cone study, 66% of young millennials would accept a lower salary to work for a company that ethically supports causes. Conscious Company Media outlines some ways that CSR benefits employees:
models integrity and best practices
provides workplace sense of identity
increases worker commitment
attracts new employees
increases creativity and innovation
4. YOUR BOTTOM LINE
A big budget is not necessary for effective CSR. Your early efforts may require NO budget, such as recycling or reducing waste, improving energy efficiency, facilitating employee volunteerism and mentoring, and using online resources to raise awareness. Another possibility is offering up company space and resources to promote culture within the local community.
One example of space-sharing is a family-owned, electric service company in Austin, TX. Bryant Electric opened the Electric House Listening Hall in the back of their office to promote and support struggling musical artists within the ultra-competitive Austin music scene. I attended a concert in this lovely space and was happy to give my $10 donation to hear acoustic artist, Vanessa Lively, in a wonderfully intimate setting.
5. YOUR COMMUNITY
When businesses and organizations are good citizens within communities, the benefits are clear. This infographic summarizes the findings from a 2015 study by Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship examining how businesses invest in communities:
KJMdigital is planning to offer a series of digital literacy workshops in our home base community of Macon, Georgia. The purpose of the workshops is to connect local, community artists to businesses in need of branding, social media marketing and design development. Armed with our strategic roadmap, the trained artists will have the toolbox needed to bring Macon together and revitalize the downtown Urban Core.
6. YOUR OPTIONS
There are a variety of ways to give back, many of which are attainable for small businesses or startups. For organizations just starting with CSR, this article by Global Giving details some options, such as charitable donations, sustainable practices, campaign support, and cause promotion.
7. YOUR NETWORK
Partnering with a nonprofit organization or a coalition is a great way to combine efforts and reach new audiences. The challenge here is finding a good fit that enhances the effectiveness and reputation of both groups.
Make sure to thoroughly research an organization and consider second and third order effects when choosing a partner. That said, the right partnership can have a dramatic impact. For seven principles of success in CSR partnering, check out this helpful article: Creating Partnerships for Sustainability.
8. YOUR REPUTATION
Corporate fit is a tricky concept but one that needs consideration before taking on a cause. When a CSR initiative is viewed as having alternative intentions, consumers will balk, such as an oil company donating to wildlife rehabilitation following an oil spill. Customers who already blame the company for causing a negative event will view this CSR action as a manipulative attempt to whitewash a damaged reputation.
A few unfortunate matches have actually caused PR crises for some companies, such as KFC’s breast cancer awareness partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The inappropriate nature of this alliance provoked TV host, Stephen Colbert, to quip, “hypo-crispy.”
On the other hand, initiatives that are socially motivated and cannot be directly tied to company profits are viewed as a good fit and likely to be well-received. Tom’s Shoes provides a pair of shoes to a kid for every pair sold. You want your cause to make sense to your customers and allow them to feel good by supporting your brand. This is why CSR matters to your reputation.
Read about three great examples of young companies engaging in meaningful CSR campaigns in this Global Giving blog post.
9. YOUR STORY
KJMdigital’s story emphasizes creativity – we create digital strategies for our clients to showcase their uniqueness and value. With creativity at our core, our CSR mission involves nurturing local art communities by connecting artists with local and state-wide businesses.
One of our current projects aims to raise awareness for the local art community in Macon, Georgia, by launching the #letspaintthestatue campaign. To creatively solve the divisive issue of confederate monuments around town, this campaign promotes painting a historical statue to represent Macon’s evolution into a modern community open to growth, diversity, and progress.
What kind of CSR initiative helps to tell your brand’s story?
10. YOUR FUTURE
Corporate social responsibility is not just a nice option for enhancing reputation while supporting social causes. It is quickly becoming standard practice and a measure by which consumers decide which organizations to support.
Without a doubt, consumers know an insincere or unscrupulous initiative when they see it. Truly ethical and transparent companies look for a cause that genuinely matters to them and make a sincere effort to improve it. On the other hand, CSR initiatives that flagrantly benefit company profits or only give the appearance of doing good (a disreputable practice known as greenwashing) result in damaged reputations and plummeting sales.
Sherry Wynn is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University where she received her Master's of Arts degree in Communications. She recently retired from the United States Air Force and is a regular contributor to the Digital Millennial. Visit her on LinkedIn to connect!
Need help reaching your audience? The KJMdigital mission is to help connect artists to businesses through our online landscape. And the KJM Team works because our mission and values align with what we value - radical transparency, autonomy and flexibility. At KJMdigital, we put people first because we know real relationships are what matter most.
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