Even a few years ago, the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) had yet to enter the commercial mainstream, with this referring to a type of self-regulation among businesses with a view to fulfilling various philanthropic, charitable and environmental objectives.
However, CSR has now been fully embraced by entrepreneurs, particularly from the perspective of employee retention.
More specifically, evidence suggests that engaging in socially-oriented and valuable projects can reduce employee turnover by approximately 50%, while an estimated 67% of employees now prefer to work for socially-inclined companies.
Unsurprisingly, the implementation of CSR can also help when acquiring and retaining customers. But what is socially responsible marketing, and how exactly does this work?
The Basics – What is Social Responsibility and Socially Responsible Marketing?
In broader terms, corporate social responsibility refers to a desire to strike a healthy balance between maintaining profitability and improving societal wellbeing, with this relatively vague objective underpinning every single aspect and element of a participating brand’s operation.
This includes advertising and promotion, with marketing-specific social responsibility leveraging techniques to target the growing number of consumers who wish to achieve societal and environmental good through their interactions with like-minded brands.
But what does socially responsible marketing and promotion look like?
Well, it may manifest itself in a number of ways, from the use of recyclable packaging and redirecting a percentage or profits into charitable causes to completing a donation for every purchase made.
Through each of these measures, businesses can demonstrate their social and environmental responsibility, highlighting an undeniably positive societal impact without compromising on their profitability or ability to operate.
So, How Does Socially Responsible Marketing Work?
In terms of successfully embodying the core principles of CSR and socially responsible marketing, TOMS Shoes perhaps provides the best reference point.
Back in 2006, the footwear brand launched an innovative and CSR-inspired business model, which saw them provide a pair of shoes to a disadvantaged child whenever a pair was purchased commercially.
The brand saw an immediate uptick in demand as a result, selling 10,000 pairs of shoes in the first year of the campaign alone.
Since this time, the brand has proudly provided hundreds of thousands of shoes to children in need across the globe, while also committing further to non-profit organisations in targeted and disenfranchised communities.
Not only does this fulfill the core premise of socially responsible marketing and promotions, but it also highlights the type of commitment required to make such campaigns effective.
In this instance, for example, TOMS Shoes created a CSR drive that actively changed their underlying business model, particularly in terms of costing and existing profit margins.
This also demonstrates perfectly how socially responsible marketing works, with the general, three-step process best broken down as follows:
- #1. Identify a ‘Social Good’: The first step to any campaign is to identify a social good, which will be the focus of your socially responsible marketing efforts. Ideally, this will relate naturally to the core product or service that you intend to sell, or at least a concept or issue that connects to an existing brand identity. This step should also help to shape your campaigns, as you determine precisely how you can have a positive societal impact
- #2. Sell Your Products or Services and Deliver on Your Promise: With the social good identified and your campaign planned out, the next step is to execute and start selling your products or services. At the same time, you’ll need to deliver on your promise, whether you follow the TOMS Shoes example or simply commit a fixed percentage of profit to a chosen cause. The key here is to deliver on your promise in full, otherwise you’ll risk compromising your message and authenticity of the brand.
- #3. Acquire New Customers Through Socially Responsible Marketing: We’ve already touched on the efficacy of CSR, with around 94% of Gen-Z members adamant that companies should address social issues and a further 76% of consumers saying that they wouldn’t do business with a firm whose values contradict their own. So, by identifying viable social causes that also resonate with your target audience, you can hopefully increase your consumer base and boost turnover significantly.
Once again, we can see the inherent link here that exists between CSR and socially responsible marketing, particularly as businesses must act with authenticity and adopt wider policies that support (and most importantly don’t contradict) their marketing efforts.
Otherwise, there’s a risk that contradictory or unethical behaviour will reveal your marketing efforts to be little more than a facade, which can actually do long-term harm to your business and brand identity.
Why is Being Socially Responsible Important for Your Business?
We’ve already touched on the glaringly obvious benefits of being socially responsible, particularly when it comes to reach, turnover and profitability.
But what are the other benefits of being socially responsible as an entrepreneur?
Here are some advantages to keep in mind:
Build Trust in Your Company
If you can showcase your business to be consistent and capable of adhering to the principles of CSR and transparent ethical standards, this may contribute to increased levels of trust between customers and your brand.
Certainly, people will see demonstrable evidence that your brand is being truly authentic and genuine in its attempts to be socially responsible, particularly when consistent behaviours are observed over an extended period of time.
This also undermines the sense of cynicism that can engulf younger customers, by negating the idea that socially responsible marketing campaigns are simply a means to a financial end.
Remember, up to 85% of consumers are inclined to stick with a business during a brand crisis if it has a history of being transparent, so building trust in this way can prove crucial over time.
Adapt to the Behaviour of Your Customers
There’s no doubt that consumer demographics are changing, with Millennials having recently come of age and combined with Generation Z to become one of the most influential groups of customers across the globe.
As demographics age and total financial spends evolve, businesses are required to adapt to the behaviour of their customers, their expectations and increased demands that they place on brands.
This is where CSR comes into play, as we’ve already revealed that a staggering 94% of Generation Z believe that firms should do more to tackle troublesome social issues.
Similarly, 81% of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, so businesses are having to adapt by making CSR a key focus for their brand.
Just remember that authenticity is key here, as while your motivation may ultimately be to retain and acquire customers, who should still identify a social cause that you and your brand can fully get behind.
Lay the Foundations for Long-term Success
Long-term trust and honesty also converts well into brand loyalty, which is the lifeblood of almost every business that operates successfully over a concerted period of time.
With this in mind, it can be argued that the companies which operate with a moral and socially responsible compass lays the foundations for business longevity, as such entities are more likely to boast stable consumer bases and close-knit relationships with individual customers.
On a similar note, creating socially responsible marketing campaigns are part of wider CSR drives can also inform effective decision-making company wide, preventing firms from taking actions that harm their reputation in the long-term.
The Last Word – How to Be Socially Responsible
While understanding the premise of socially responsible marketing and CSR and their benefits is one thing, it’s quite another to put this into practice as an entrepreneur or key stakeholder when planning your billboard campaigns.
However, you may want to reference the American Marketing Associations’ Code of Ethics, which outlines many of the principles that underpin CSR and associated marketing efforts. These include:
- Honesty: This compels marketers to be forthright when dealing with customers and stakeholders alike. This requires honesty at all times and a willingness to honour public commitment and promises.
- Responsibility: Marketers must also accept the consequences of all associated decisions and strategies, including those that relate to socially responsible campaigns.
- Fairness: This refers to the need to justly balance the needs of the buyer with the interests of the seller, and this same considered approach must also underpin an effective (and ultimately profitable) socially responsible marketing drive.
- Respect: To fully acknowledge and uphold the basic human dignity of all customers and stakeholder, while valuing individual differences and listening to the needs of consumers.
- Transparency: Not only must marketers be honest at all times, but they’ll also need to demonstrate transparency both in terms of their CSR approach and how they execute individual campaigns.
- Citizenship: Finally, marketers and brands must commit to fulfilling the economic, legal, philanthropic and societal responsibilities on behalf of customers. This focuses on notions such as giving back to local communities and safeguarding ecological environments through marketing efforts, so it’s central to the core elements of CSR.