Cause and effect: Build your business by connecting with social causes
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is getting increasing airtime in business circles. There’s no question that it can be a ‘forced hand’ strategy…everyone’s ‘doing it’ so we have to as well. It can also be a manipulative strategy…solely the desire to look good and mix in the right circles. However, there are countless examples of CSR as it should be, championed by corporates that really do believe in giving back to the community and whose motivation isn’t manipulation.
Almost everyone I know is passionate about a cause – from sustainability to social justice. But often they aren’t able to devote their life to it. Turn to businesses and we see that there’s enormous competition for attention, with clutter and noise distracting from a clear message (as true of internal stakeholders as external ones). The triple bottom line is that being successful, being heard and making a difference all matter. CSR is one way you can create a bridge between those objectives.
Strong businesses are built from the inside out
First, define your brand values. Your brand is not your logo or name. It’s your personality, experience and DNA…an authentic expression of what you stand for.
Second, commit to your marketing strategy. This means understanding your market and how you’ll compete in that market, as well as developing your value proposition and the people, systems and structures you need to deliver that promised value.
Third, connect your brand to your market through shared causes. This isn’t just about getting someone’s attention. This is about recognising that most people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. CSR is one of many ways to give back and to help your team and your customers and partners be part of that journey.
A few pointers to authentic CSR
Identify – list the causes that align to your brand values – eg health, education, poverty alleviation, training
Create – determine what type and level of support you can give based on your resources – eg financial donations to other organisations, creation of your own initiatives/programs that directly contribute, provision of resources/expertise, leveraging your networks for advocacy support
Link – find organisations you can partner with (eg other businesses), tap into (eg government agencies), or sponsor (eg not-for-profits)
Define – articulate your program based on your support (point 2) and your links (point 3) as this will help you stay focused, not spread yourself too thin, and use your resources in a more sustainable fashion
Build – maintain a commitment to your support program over at least a twelve month period rather than one-off bursts which have lesser value
Involve – look for opportunities to include your team and customers/clients and partners in initiatives that support the causes you’ve chosen
Communicate – use all of your communication channels to promote your chosen causes and what you’re doing to support them. CSR isn’t authentic because it’s a silent achiever (people can rightly be proud of giving back); CSR is authentic because it’s a value-based commitment
From the outside in, this is a two-way market building strategy using:
A traditional products and services approach, giving existing audiences a more compelling reason to stay with you, and
A cause-based approach, giving new audiences, who probably didn’t know you existed, a reason to consider your offer by supporting something that matters to them…and that matters to you.
From the inside out, this also has immense value to your most valuable asset – your team – by connecting their day-to-day work with broader social causes, and thereby increasing morale.
To see this in action, a couple of businesses you can look at are:
RACQ’s 2012 ad campaign helping members better understand what their fees support
Bendigo Bank’s community program that strongly links with its community banking value proposition
321 Water and its innovative product design
CSR is an exciting avenue for being creative with what you have and connecting your values with causes. It’s a real way to build your business – your people, your networks, your market share, your programs – and make a difference.