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Marketing for CSR and sustainability strategies

Wind turbines on grassy hills and sunrise

In our ethically-conscious world, consumers increasingly expect brands to show their commitment to causes other than profit, such as environmental sustainability, workers rights and charitable initiatives.

As well as being good for the world, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is also good for business.

However, no matter how good their intentions, some brands can still stumble when it comes to communicating such sustainability strategies to customers and stakeholders, and that’s where CSR consulting can help.

Read on, as we discuss the components of a successful CSR strategy, and the benefits it can bring your brand.

CSR may be mandatory, but it shouldn’t be run-of-the-mill

Spreading the word about your business’ CSR strategy is a great opportunity to engage with all stakeholders, both internally and externally.

Like any good marketing strategy, it is essential that you understand the needs of the different audiences you are wanting to reach.

Although detailed reports with plenty of statistics about your company’s CSR implementation might be satisfactory for some stakeholders with industry knowledge, it is unlikely to capture the imagination of customers.

Social media messaging can be a great way to interact with customers, and to educate them about your CSR initiatives in a way that is both entertaining and memorable: think strong branding and use of images and video. However you choose to implement and convey your CSR marketing, make sure it differs from your competitors to cut through the noise, as a lot of CSR marketing out there does lack distinction.

As well as being good for the world, CSR is also good for business.

What does a successful CSR strategy look like?

No matter the industry, all of our clients have one thing in common: they want their CSR communications to be engaging, informative and easily digestible. In order to create and implement a successful CSR strategy, you need to consider these three tips:

Authenticity is key

From the Costa Foundation to TOMS Shoes, there are plenty of examples of how CSR and marketing can go hand in hand.

Despite the obvious benefits of winning over consumers and improving brand loyalty, CSR marketing shouldn’t be thought of as purely an opportunity to increase sales, but rather as a way to make a positive difference and engage with stakeholders and customers in a meaningful way.

People want to engage with like minded brands, so in order to attract the right audience, it’s imperative that your cause aligns with your brand’s core values and addresses issues facing your specific industry.

For example, a university could offer a mentoring scheme for local schools in economically deprived areas, and an energy company could focus on developing alternative, green energy.

Consider consumer attitudes

Although you shouldn’t be afraid to think outside of the box, current consumer attitudes should also be a key consideration in any CSR strategy.

Many brands have used the current backlash against single-use plastics as an opportunity to reduce plastic waste in their organisations, and then share this positive news with customers through their marketing communications.

You can analyse consumer attitudes to your brand by setting up social media alerts for brand mentions on social media or communicate directly with consumers through focus groups and online surveys.

Involve both internal and external stakeholders

Brands can be viewed as hypocritical if they’re seen to only be implementing CSR strategy on an external level (i.e supporting ethical causes) whilst not reflecting on what more could be done on an internal level (i.e. paying employees a fair wage).

Employees can also be the best brand ambassadors and advocates of a company’s CSR strategy, as they’re a key point of contact when it comes to communicating with customers.

Initiatives such as CSR training can help to increase employee satisfaction by encouraging them to be involved with fundraising and volunteering, fostering a strong community spirit in the workplace.

87%

of consumers would purchase a product based on a company supporting a cause that they felt passionate about.

What are the benefits of a successful CSR strategy?

There are several benefits that a successful CSR strategy can bring your brand. Here are just a few:

Raise brand awareness

An effective CSR strategy can increase brand awareness, therefore driving more customers or potential investors your way.

A 2017 study found that 87% of consumers would purchase a product based on a company supporting a cause that they felt passionate about.

If your company is perceived as leading the way when it comes to sustainable practices, it may also open up the door to investment from an increasing number of ‘ethical investors’, keen to invest in ethically responsible brands.

Build brand trust

In our hyper-connected world, mistrust of a brand can spread like wildfire, so building a brand that customers, whether B2C or B2B, can trust is more important than ever.

By communicating how your business is ethically responsible, and not just concerned with driving up profits, consumers will be more willing to perceive a brand as trustworthy and reward them with their loyalty.

On the other hand, consumers are quick to punish brands who they believe are behaving unethically, often through online petitions and boycotts. And rebuilding brand trust following negative press is a much harder task.

This has been shown with brands that have been called out for alleged ‘greenwashing’ – where a brand is seen to make false or misleading claims about their ethical credentials to attract socially conscious consumers.

Instil a positive brand experience for customers

Experiential marketing isn’t disappearing, and customers increasingly want to engage with brands on a meaningful level.

Giving your customers a chance to see how their purchase has directly benefited an environmental and/or social cause will make them feel more personally invested in the brand and provide a more positive brand experience. For example, if you’ve ever donated to a charity shop, you may have received a heart-warming text to tell you how much your unwanted goods raised.

Events and workshops can be a great method of directly engaging with customers with your CSR efforts. However, regular marketing communications like email, newsletters, or social posts can be highly potent but cost-effective channels for reinforcing your brand’s CSR strategy.

Instil a sense of pride and belonging in employees

CSR is often thought of as a way to positively influence the external reputation of your brand, but it can also have a positive effect on existing relationships with employees.

The employees of today and the future are concerned about the environmental and/or social impact that their company may have, and are willing to jump ship if they feel like a brand doesn’t align with their personal values.

It’s no secret that employees who feel happy about their work are more likely to do their best work and stay committed to an organisation.

Attract future talent

The workplace of the future is made up of Gen Z and millennials who place value on meaningful work and the ethics of a company when it comes to choosing a workplace.

As well as attracting talent right away, CSR strategies such as mentoring young people or providing scholarships for those from underrepresented communities can also ensure a pipeline of suitable talent for the future.

Stand out from competitors

Establishing yourself as an ethical brand is a great way to give you an advantage over competitors, as your sustainable efforts may well be the reason a customer picks your product or services over that of a competitor.

In today’s market, sustainability can provide a competitive edge, as 90% of consumers said that they’d switch brands to one associated with an ethical or environmental cause.

Reduce costs

Although CSR practices can also be associated with rising costs, such as investing in new technology, it can also have a positive effect on cash flow.

Some sustainable practices, such as reducing plastic packaging for products or utilising or effectively managing waste, can lead to reduced production costs as well as improved sustainability.

90%

of consumers said that they’d switch brands to one associated with an ethical or environmental cause.

Types of CSR

Corporate social responsibility can take many different forms: from setting ambitious environmental targets, to raising money for charity or investing in employee wellbeing.

Sustainability

Environmental sustainability is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and consumers have expressed how they value sustainability over short-term benefits such as reduced cost.

A key example of this can be seen in the energy industry, where 47% of consumers would pay more for 100% renewable energy.

Although larger businesses can have greater impacts, for example, energy provider EON switching focus to developing renewable energy, businesses of all sizes can make small changes to improve their sustainability strategy, these include:

  • Incentivising employees to use cars less by providing cycle to work schemes or discounted public transport.
  • Banning or drastically reducing single-use plastic in your organisation.
  • Offset carbon footprints by donating to tree planting initiatives.

Philanthropic initiatives

Donating to charity is often what first comes to mind when thinking about CSR. Charity donations can certainly be a great way to demonstrate your brand’s commitments to social responsibility and helping others.

Why not encourage your employees to get involved with charitable initiatives such as volunteering and fundraising? Then tell your customers and other stakeholders about it.

Ethical business practices

Ethical business practices include everything from paying workers a fair wage, and improving the provenance of your supply chain, to taking a stance against worker exploitation in third world countries.

Examples of successful CSR strategies

Our passion for creating and implementing successful CSR strategies has allowed us to work with numerous brands on this:

CSR case study: Hanson

Hanson, the UK’s largest supplier of ready-mixed concrete, came to us eight years ago with a problem: they wanted to establish themselves as a sustainable market leader in an industry often thought of as unsustainable, and communicate this commitment to their customers.

Over the past eight years, we have provided CSR consulting to Hanson, helping to communicate their sustainability strategy. This included a number of tangible goals for their own business, including reusing materials and by-products and appointing a designated head of sustainability within the organisation.

Previously, Hanson’s sustainability report was confined to a printed statistical document on the company’s website.

Our branding experts were able to help Hanson communicate their strategy in a more visually engaging manner by breaking information down into bite sized chunks and creating more engaging and digestible ‘stories’ using film, animation and social media assets.

CSR Case Study:  Renewable energy industry – E.ON

As one of the world’s largest electric utility services providers, EON has the opportunity to influence millions through their CSR and sustainability strategy.

Realising the importance and consumer demand for clean energy, EON has switched 3.3 million customers to 100% renewable electricity, making them the largest UK supplier of renewable electricity.

We worked with EON to communicate the achievement internally – creating positive messaging to be displayed internally as wall vinyls, pull-ups and hanging banners.

This will be rolled out across their main UK sites, to communicate the achievement and commitment to their employees.

Final thoughts

A well-executed CSR strategy can have wide-reaching benefits; from protecting and enhancing a company’s brand and increasing employee retention, to serving communities and protecting the environment.

At Michon, we have nearly three decades of experience in offering CSR consultancy, helping companies to communicate with a variety of audiences in engaging and innovative ways.

To find out about how we can help you, get in touch with us today. Alternatively, for the latest marketing and branding news, take a look at our blog.