Tag Archives: CSR Strategy

CSR is no longer a bandwagon. It’s a standard.

The recently released Cone Cause Evolution Study makes it clear that in the eyes of consumers there can be absolutely no doubt about the importance of CSR. In fact, the data would seem to indicate that on many issues, positive attitudes to CSR have reached a natural zenith.

In the 2010 study, 85% of those surveyed said they have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause they care about. That represents no change from a 2008 study that asked the same question but in a 2007 Cone study, 92% agreed with the statement.

Likewise in 2010, 80% said they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand is associated with a good cause. But in 2007, that number was 87% and in 2008 it was 79%.

Cone’s headline to the 2010 study was that Moms and Millennials are leading the way in CSR attitudes. In reality, millennial attitudes showed very little movement over time. In a 2006 Cone study on Millennials, 89% agreed with the “brand switching for a good cause” statement from above. In 2008, that number had dropped to 88% and in 2010 it rose to 93%. Once you factor in statistical probabilities, the numbers are close to identical.

One could try and make arguments to explain the rises and dips in these numbers but it seems to me that once the measured agreement with certain statements reaches particular levels, the movement in numbers is irrelevant. Whether its 85%, 89% or 92%, it is very clear that buying decisions are indisputably being made on the basis of the CSR profiles of products and companies. Would 95% be that much more impressive than 92% for example?

There is (at least) one sobering statistic that emerges from the Cone study. Only 19% of people said they would buy a more expensive brand because of its cause profile. So, while CSR is firmly a part of consumer thought, it may not yet be translating into action. But that number is likely on the rise and increasingly we will see CSR investment translating into revenue.

In our firm’s interaction with numerous companies and prospective clients, we find many that wonder about “that CSR thing” and whether there’s just a fad factor  – a bandwagon effect. The answer – that successful owners and managers have already discovered – is that the bandwagon has passed. A strategic CSR program is now a business standard and a necessity to effectively compete in the marketplace.

Passion Points:

  • CSR is not a passing fad. If your business doesn’t have a strategic CSR program, is time to develop one.
  • Those who have implemented CSR programs should be evaluating and improving. As CSR increasingly becomes part of buying decisions, the quality of CSR programs will have to keep suit.

The Humility Hurdle

Here’s a situation we’ve encountered a number of times. A business owner is very socially conscious and has actively brought that sensibility into the company. It has resulted in philanthropy or sustainability programs that are well developed and in some cases examples of best practice. Because of the owner’s personal ethos, there are many other aspects of the operation that in fact reflect exemplary CSR principles. These include promoting diversity, the support of charitable causes and ethical business practice.

However, when faced with a proposal to develop a more integrated and strategic CSR plan, the answer is a resounding no. Why? Because it will inevitably result in greater recognition for their socially responsible efforts – and she or he is uncomfortable with undue credit for what is considered to be “just doing the right thing.” In an age of seemingly unbridled corporate egotism, this is almost unbelievable but their enviable humility may be resulting in a disservice to their company and the community.

Perhaps the owner would relent if presented with some of the following benefits that could accrue if a CSR program was well built and strategically articulated.

The company’s employees would be better engaged. They would feel proud of working for a company that stands out, and they might share those feelings with prospective employees. They would be motivated to be a part of CSR efforts. Productivity, retention and the ability to attract top talent would grow.

Other companies will be encouraged to adopt similar practices. This would especially be true of supply chain partners.

There would be greater social outcomes. More organizations would benefit from more support – whether in money or time. In turn, this could result in more people being helped, fed or housed; in more treatment or even cures for those that are sick; or in greater advocacy, awareness and support for causes and communities.

The company could become more profitable. Consumer willingness to support brands that are more socially responsible has been well established. Even in B2B enterprises, buying decisions are increasingly influenced by CSR profiles.

While a CSR program will focus on the company’s efforts, it’s inevitable that some of the spotlight may be cast on the owner. Perhaps the solution lies in convincing him or her that overcoming the humility hurdle may ultimately be for the greater good.

Passion Principles

  1. CSR reporting should focus on the company or employee groups but not individuals.
  2. Consider the collateral benefits of establishing a CSR program
  3. Don’t underestimate the extent to which a well executed CSR program will drive business results.

The CSR Moral of the Story is ……

Aesop’s 650 fables remain a popular choice for lessons in moral education.  In fact, last week I shared The Ant & the Grasshopper with my five year old son, in an effort to teach him the value of hard work and perseverance and it got me thinking – does the world of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), so steeped in matters of moral and ethical significance, have anything to learn from Aesop?

I think it does.

Take, for instance, The Boy who Cried Wolf.  We all know the story – the attention-seeking lad who contrives a scenario of danger to elicit concern.  After many bogus cries for help, the boy finds that he is indeed in jeopardy, and when he cries, nobody comes.  This story is all about authenticity and trustworthiness, the cornerstone of any effective CSR strategy.  If a company is heralding CSR or sustainability as a priority, but its claims ring hollow, nobody will pay attention if and when there is a genuine shift in business practices.  KFC may encounter this very problem should it decide to adopt a new CSR or cause alignment platform in the future.

Aesop’s story about the North Wind and the Sun also offers an important CSR message.  In a competition to determine who is stronger, each element must cause a passer-by to remove his coat, and whoever does it first wins.  The North Wind blows and blows and with each gust, the passing man pulls his coat tighter to protect himself.  The sun, however, just shines brightly until finally, the man removes his coat from the heat.  The lesson, of course, is that persuasion is better than force, a lesson that Timberland might well be learning in the wake of their recent smoking ban (http://blogs.forbes.com/csr/2010/06/03/timberlands-smoking-ban-good-corporate-citizenship-or-overkill/).  CSR overkill can be counterproductive.

Perhaps the Aesop fable with the most important message for anyone interested in CSR is that of The Lion and the Mouse. In a gesture of goodwill, the Lion takes pity on the lowly mouse, granting him life and freedom.  The grateful mouse promises to repay this benevolent gesture, but the lion is altogether cynical of the tiny mouse’s capacity to help him.  Sure enough, the scales tip and the mouse saves the day by freeing the lion from captors.  The lesson, you ask?  While business may have more muscle than community causes – while the corporate world wields more power – there is much to be gained from a relationship with those in need.

Aesop may well have been the world’s first CSR consultant!

Passion Points:

  • Don’t cry wolf.  Make sure your CSR practices are genuine and legitimate.
  • No need to force people into compliance.  A softer approach, laid out strategically over time may have bigger impact.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of CSR.  Even the strongest, wealthiest companies have much to gain through strategic partnerships with those in need.