Genuine CSR for Brands

Giving £200,000 to save endangered Arctic seals is now no longer enough. If companies are going to integrate Corporate Social Responsibility into their objectives, they need to do so with utter conviction and a dedication to doing it properly. They need to do it in line with their own business models and brand strategies.

CSR only works when it is built into the very fabric of an organisation and is actually weaved into a company’s ethos. It involves paying much more than mere lip service and involves a company actually becoming one with its stated CSR objectives. These objectives then become key components of its marketing strategy because the two can’t be divorced from one another.

We all can name one or two companies that have leveraged CSR into the heart of their organisation. Think Innocent Smoothies, Clipper Tea, Green & Blacks, Pret a Manger, Big Issue – their CSR philosophies are intimately woven into their brand image. The two can’t be separated. And this is where marketing’s future lies – the integration of CSR into the heart and soul of both a company and therefore also its marketing strategy.

An interesting example of how CSR can be integrated within a marketing strategy has been demonstrated by one of Halpern Cowan’s clients, Malmaison, the boutique hotel chain. The company is making a dedicated effort to source its hotel food and beverages form local suppliers. In doing so it reduces its carbon footprint whilst also boosting local small businesses, and further improving the quality of its offering.

Yes, it takes effort for Malmaison to source locally and the food costs might increase, but the overall community goodwill combined with a real sense of trying to be environmentally responsible is an intelligent strategy. Indeed, the extra few thousand pounds it might cost annually to source local produce is the equivalent of a quarter page ad in the Times. When viewed as a marketing cost, it’s negligible.

CSR initiatives, when done properly, are priceless because they demonstrate to their customers that ‘we’re all in this together – your issues are our issues’. Brands no longer become isolated but are viewed as partners by their customers. Indeed, CSR offers huge opportunities to show that a brand not only understands its customers but also that it is willing to stand in partnership with them. That’s one powerful strategy. But a word of warning: such a strategy demands courage, conviction and 100% commitment at all levels of an organisation.

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