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Corporate responsibility is more than a brand promise

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It’s been demonstrated in survey after survey after survey. Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z-ers, want businesses to play a bigger role in social and environmental affairs. Organizations with strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs invest time and money into making positive changes in the world. They empower their employees and customers to do the same. Socially responsible organizations may enjoy better customer loyalty and higher rates of employee retention, but only if they can get the message out about their CSR programs. 

CSR needs to have a strong, thoughtful marketing plan to educate consumers about what a brand stands for and why. Gone are the days when organizations could simply push out touchy-feely messaging about brand values and expect consumers to happily make a purchase. Today’s consumers want more than promises, they want authenticity and action. Here are some tips for authentically marketing a socially responsible brand. 

Don’t guess, listen

Being social conscious means paying attention to what matters. How can you know what matters in society unless you’ve really listened to its many voices? Look outside your team and take steps to counteract implicit bias by engaging with a diverse audience. People from different backgrounds, races, genders, and orientations will help you develop better questions, and examine your goals on a deeper level to see if you are hitting the mark with your CSR messaging. 

If you aren’t listening, your marketing may be missing the mark on important social topics, like inclusion. Mistakes like these lead to brand distrust and a loss of consumer loyalty. A survey by Adobe found that: 

  • 53% of African Americans and 40% of Hispanics said they have walked away from a brand for not representing them in advertising.
  • 58% of LGBTQ+ survey respondents stopped buying from a brand because it did not reflect their identity.

Some brands shy away from social action because it seems scary or controversial, but staying silent won't get you very far with today’s socially conscious consumers. Getting CSR right requires honesty, transparency and thoughtful communication followed by meaningful action. Customer surveys, social listening and engagement with community leaders and non-profit organizations are great places to start getting meaningful feedback on what matters to your audience and to society as a whole. 

Don’t promise, act

Consumer data from Havas Media Group’s 2021 Meaningful Brand’s Report shows that the value of most brands is declining. Consumers say that if three-quarters of the brands they use disappeared completely, they could easily be replaced by another similar brand. What does this mean for companies striving for customer loyalty and retention? It means that, without meaningful action, your brand might as well disappear altogether. The report also details how consumers feel about brands that make promises versus brands that act:

  • 64% of respondents said that they prefer to buy from companies with a reputation for purpose as well as profit (up 10 points from 2019). 
  • 73% of respondents believe that brands must act now for the good of society and the planet.
  • 71% of respondents have little faith that brands will deliver on their promises.
  • Only 34% believe that companies are transparent about their promises.

Consumers are done with greenwashing and emotionally manipulative advertising campaigns that aren’t backed by real action. They want brands that talk the talk and walk the walk of social responsibility in every way. For example, simply showing a diverse population in your advertising images isn’t enough. Showing you value diversity with action takes more. Making a one-time donation to a “plant a tree” campaign in exchange for a customer’s product purchase is a platitude. Making a commitment to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions over five years, publishing a comprehensive public plan and arranging for an external audit, that’s real action, and it’s worth talking about.  

When topics are tough, get your messaging right

Whenever you engage in social or environmental action, there will be circumstances where your company may draw criticism from those who disagree with your values or the way you portrayed them. That’s OK. This is where good messaging, open communication and honesty come in. Brands are living, breathing things because they are created by living, breathing humans. No one gets it right every single time. 

Tackling tough topics takes skill and thoughtfulness. These skills don't naturally exist on every marketing team. The key is to ask for help when you need it. Whether that be by hiring a PR firm to help you position a campaign or hiring a content specialist to draft the perfect copy, don’t feel like you have to go it alone. If you are looking for help crafting thoughtful marketing messages for your CSR campaigns, Content Matterz can help. Reach out to us here