How To Use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) As A Marketing Tool

Corporate businesses may not like to admit it, but CSR is indeed part of a company’s marketing strategy to build a positive brand image among consumers. Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to buy from companies that have good reputation. CSR provides businesses with the opportunity to identify the ills that they are a part of, or are contributing to society or the planet at large and address them. It begins with identifying the right social cause to address.

Finding the right cause

Businesses operate in the same society that its consumers live in. One way to identify the right social issue to address is to look inwards into society and identify issues that your customers are passionate about. For instance, an estimated 7 million people in South Africa suffer from the HIV epidemic and a business operating in the country has a moral obligation to work for the cause of those affected by this virus. Many businesses, including the likes of Mercedes Benz, BMW and Coca Cola are invested in HIV eradication programs in South Africa.

Another way to look at it is by identifying the social and environmental impact of operating your business and addressing these issues through CSR. For instance, Coca Cola has frequently been accused of depleting water resources to sustain its plant operations, especially in countries like India, where a rising population has made water a scarce resource. Over the past decade, Coca Cola has been investing in water replenishment projects that aim to return water that the company consumes back to communities in the form of safe drinking water. The company reportedly replenished as much as 191.9 billion liters of water across the world through this project in 2015.

Making a business case for CSR

CSR does not necessarily have to be philanthropic in nature. Businesses may identify operational strategies that can be profitable and yet bring positive change to the society and environment that they operate in. This includes investing in renewable energy, moving away from fossil fuels and implementing programs that bring about diversity and inclusion at the workplace. In each of these cases, businesses do profit from their investments. At the same time, they help bring about a positive change to the society the consumers live in.

Using CSR as a marketing tool

For CSR to be effective, it needs to be implemented in sync with your organization’s brand building strategy. This may be done either using an integrated approach or a selective approach. An integrated approach works well when your branding is based on commitments. For instance, a retailer that promises pesticide-free organic vegetables to consumers may invest in CSR activities that promote chemical-free farming techniques.

The selective approach on the other hand is ideal for businesses with multiple brands and products. In this strategy, businesses may tie in specific brands with their CSR activity in order to drive usage and adoption. Knorr (a Unilever brand) promoting healthy cooking to address malnutrition in Nigeria and Signal toothpaste (another brand from Unilever) targeting oral health with their Brush Day & Night campaign are examples of selective CSR marketing approaches.

There is also an invisible approach where businesses carry out CSR activities but do not communicate them extensively in their marketing materials. This is ideal when the buying preferences of your customers are not directly impacted by your CSR activities, and yet, you need to invest in such campaigns to establish trust and credibility among consumers at large.

About the author

Trott advises small businesses on their market go-to strategy. He may be reached at [email protected]


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