Socially responsible brands lend their names, reputations and clout to social and environmental causes. A growing number of businesses have learned how to achieve brand objectives and profit goals while taking into consideration stakeholder, business and community concerns. Find out how your business can navigate the commercial marketplace profitably and responsibly by building brands benevolently.
Brand With Purpose Beyond Profits
Companies perceived as “socially responsible” act ethically and responsibly for the good of their businesses and society. In the course of doing business, they address economic, social and environmental concerns. The practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is very useful for winning contracts, gaining loyal employees and customers, influencing people and building trusting relationships that garner respect. Socially responsible businesses find ways to give back to local communities and often to national and world charitable projects. But CSR entails more than strategic philanthropy. It involves a long-term commitment to a process that builds value through ethical and sustainable business practices. By merging social purpose with brand objectives and profit goals, socially responsible companies serve business interests and benefit society.
Benefiting Society and the Bottom-Line
When considering the effects business decisions and corporate actions have on people, communities and the environment, it’s little wonder why a growing number of investors and consumers favor socially responsible brands.
According to recent research, companies that give back to society are viewed more favorably than those companies that demonstrate no social consciousness.
“The majority of consumers from different regions across the world prefer to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that give back to society, but the proportions willing to pay extra for products and services from these companies are drastically lower, finds Neilsen in a March 2011 report. Indeed, consumers in North America are almost twice as likely to say they prefer to buy products from these companies than to say they would pay extra for their products and services (64% vs. 35%).” (Source: Neilsen attitude to socially responsible companies, April 2012, www.marketingcharts.com)
Corporate Social Consciousness
The growing uneasiness and civil unrest about the excesses of corporate America could give rise to a fundamental transformation in how businesses conduct themselves. Companies may find they can no longer afford to choose shareholder profits over social responsibility. Those who do risk losing face. When corporate greed and irresponsibility harm people or the environment, it becomes a newsworthy topic likely to tarnish the business and diminish brand value. Unsavory business practices can cause a loss of customers, employees and investors. They will find alternative options that support a vision for a better world.
Socially responsible companies demonstrate concern for “people, planet and profits.” These concerns are shared across operating functions, throughout the supply chain, and in developing brand strategy. Social ethics, environmental stewardship and sustainable business practices are integrated into corporate values, conduct codes and employee training programs. In some companies, the social mission is incorporated into the bylaws so that shareholders have the power to hold accountable management and the board of directors.
Within a business practicing CSR, there exists a collective strength – the strength of the brands, core competencies, people and resources. When companies use their corporate muscle and financial resources synergistically to promote products and services linked to social and environmental causes, they distinguish their brands. Socially conscious companies know how to build capital and generate wealth. Simultaneously, they help to make the world a better place. The challenge is learning how to harness available discretionary resources for a greater good and still achieve the business’s mission and purpose. I recommend supporting causes that fit with the corporate culture, mission, values, core competencies and brand objectives. For more information, click here to review and download an earlier article I authored about “Brand Distinction Through Strategic Philanthropy”.
Advancing Social Change
Businesses have the power to advance positive social change, contribute to economic development, create jobs, provide training, conserve natural resources, reduce their environmental footprint and help improve quality of life within their communities. By affiliating their brands with social and environmental initiatives (“causes”), corporations can lend their names and reputations to draw attention to important concerns. They can contribute other resources as well, to help solve social problems. Moreover, they can create meaningful interactions between the brand, cause and key stakeholders. Linking brand message to social or environmental causes is an effective way of igniting passion for a brand. Emotional engagement distinguishes brands and helps build brand loyalty.
Defining Business Success
Growth, profitability, and return on investment are not the only important measures of success. Businesses are expected to outperform competitors in terms of market share and also to contribute to the wellbeing of society. The most admired businesses have found ways to act with integrity and surpass competitors in terms of goodness. They have clearly defined values and find ways to engage stakeholders in their missions. They connect people, product and purpose. Giving deeper meaning and relevance to brands has become part of their overall business strategies.
The way businesses measure success has been evolving. Performance measurement encompasses more than growth, profitability and return on equity. There are new and emerging international standards that incorporate criteria for measuring performance on the basis of three leading indicators: (1) economic, (2) social and (3) environmental. Within each indicator, there are specific criteria for measuring success.
How companies and suppliers treat their employees, customers, communities and the environment matters to consumers, watchdog groups and government agencies. Profiting at the expense of others through human rights violations or by causing harm to the environment, for example, no longer is being tolerated.
In this digital age of information, it has become increasingly difficult for companies to hide or control the publicity of negative behavior. With instant messaging, smart phones and blogging, amateur journalists upload reports and capture pictures instantaneously. Corporate behavior can easily and quickly be communicated across the Internet making its way into the mainstream media. Once a negative story gets out and goes viral, it’s more difficult to control the spin. Acting with integrity and maintaining a good reputation is the best way to avoid negative publicity.
Leaders in CSR
Socially responsible businesses generate favorable news stories highlighting their brands through good deeds. This creates goodwill. Click this link to Huffington Post Business online for news stories featuring revolutionary socially responsible companies including Seventh Generation, The Body Shop, Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms, Honest Tea, TOMS Shoes and more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/12/8-revolutionary-socially_n_679832.html.
Supply Chain Management of Benevolent Branding
Benevolent brands are branded products and services marketed by socially responsible companies. Benevolent branding can be as simple as cause-marketing or social marketing. It might entail corporate strategic philanthropy or a fundamental shift in the way business is done. This shift could impact the business’s entire global supply chain.
Brand managers should consider the economic, social and environmental impact of their branded products from cradle to grave. This involves all aspects, from the initial design phase through production, labeling, marketing and distribution. It ultimately includes even the recycling of by-products.
Companies that are dedicated to corporate social responsibility should persuade their suppliers and marketing partners to adhere to the similar high ethical standards. Businesses practicing CSR should introduce a written code of conduct, corporate policies and guidelines that include social and environmental requirements. It may be helpful to provide incentives to honor the code of conduct and reserve the right to terminate business relationships if the code is violated. Additionally, monitoring and reporting methods should be established to help ensure compliance and to report on social and environmental progress. An excellent article on this topic entitled, “Safeguarding CSR in Global Supply Chains” can be found online through the Journey of Public Affairs (John Wiley & Sons Inc / Business, August-November 2006) at www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pa.232/abstract.
Social Media’s Role in Branding
In addition to the supply chain, socially responsible brands align their brand message with customers’ values. They use social media to create a dialogue with customers to engage them authentically and transparently. Simon Mainwaring authored a terrific book on this subject titled “We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to build a Better World”. The book as described by Mainwaring, “It presents a new vision for the practice of capitalism in which brands and consumers partner using social media to create a sustainable pillar of social change.”
© 2012 Anne Wall, All Rights Reserved.