Tag Archives: stakeholder engagement

Communication bridges the CSR Words vs Actions gap

Communications may be the key to understanding and developing the relationship between companies and consumers when it comes to CSR.

The Cone Shared Responsibility Survey that was released a few weeks ago presents some interesting data. To varying degrees, 65% of Americans believe that companies should be active regarding environmental and social issues. And in large numbers, consumers hold companies responsible for a wide range of issues including everything from alleviating poverty to ensuring that products are produced safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. So, it’s clear that at least as a matter of principle, consumers care about CSR.

But what about the practice? Well, here it’s not so clear. Consumers did indicate that if a company incorporated their ideas (presumably about social/environmental responsibility), over 50% of them would recommend the company, 54% would be more loyal toward it and 61% would be more likely to buy its products and services. But when asked what initiatives they would adopt to influence corporate social/environmental practices, less than half (44%) said they would buy or boycott a company’s product or services.

There seems to be a great divide between words and actions here. The truth is that while there is abundant data on consumers’ buying intentions relative to a company’s CSR platform, we don’t know that much about whether that translates into action

Recent reports from the American south might provide an answer. Local news stories are indicating that some BP stations are selling 500 fewer gallons per day. That’s certainly a result of the Gulf oil spill and consumers’ perception about the company’s environmental irresponsibility. But that may just be an extreme example based on a sensational event.

The Cone study may provide some insight. While consumers indicate they want to be informed about companies’ CSR performance and can even suggest the ways in which they would like that to be done (advertising, in-store, social media), they are, at best, confused by the messages they are receiving. And, in fact, they are very cynical. Fully 87% of respondents said that companies share positive information about their efforts but withhold negative information. 67% said they are confused about the messages companies use to talk about their social and environmental efforts.

It seems reasonable to me that if consumers don’t feel they can trust the information they have regarding companies’ CSR activity, they aren’t going to take action. Let’s not doubt whether CSR is a source of competitive advantage. Let’s do a better job of communicating.

Passion Points:

  • Ensure that your company’s social and environmental activities are effectively communicated through a variety of channels
  • Use social media tools to monitor what consumers are saying about your company
  • Be consistent. Ensure that what you say about your CSR activity is the same across all channels
  • Be transparent. Tell consumers about what you have done but also about what is yet to be done.

Green and Generosity – 2 New Envy Trends

There are significant CSR implications in Statusphere, the latest offering from trendwatcher.com – one of the world’s leading consumer trends firms. Based on the premise that “consumers are finding increasingly diverse ways to get their status fix,” it identifies five new areas in which consumers are vying for bragging rights.

One of them is Generosity. Perhaps as a reaction to the impact of greed on the latest economic meltdown, giving now trumps owing as a mark of prestige. Not only are consumers feeling a need to express their more altruistic side, they want to share the experience with others. Giving circles, crowdsourced giving and collaborative giving models abound. Online initiatives that allow individuals to choose the beneficiaries of corporate philanthropy are becoming increasingly common.

As it relates to CSR, many companies are recognizing that corporate philanthropy alone isn’t enough. A more strategic approach dictates a path of stakeholder engagement where customers are an integral part of the giving program – helping to make making decisions and given an opportunity to share experiences. (See Pepsi’s Refresh Project)

Another area identified is “Green Credentials and Unconsumption.” Increasingly consumers are anxious to demonstrate their “eco-credentials” to their peers. The latest ecological symbols and obviously eco-friendly products are taking on the status previously reserved for labels like D&G, Coach and others. And ecologically friendly services (from landscaping to roofing to banking) are taking on the same appeal. Just as in the case of Generosity, consumers are seeking the forums to tell the world they are truly green with envy. The days of the gas guzzling SUV as a badge of accomplishment are gone. Hybrid is the new hot auto label as consumers try to outdo their peers by consuming less.

Most companies have recognized that the green plank is essential to any CSR platform. The truly enlightened players are providing stakeholders with products and services that can express both the company’s and the individual’s eco-interests. Moreover, they are providing ways for stakeholders to share the experience by becoming actively involved and expressing their opinions. (See TD Friends of the Environment)

Passion Points:

  • Meaningfully involve employees and customers in your company’s philanthropic efforts.
  • Make sure your communications plan trumpets their successes and provides the forums for them to share their experiences
  • Ensure that your company’s eco-initiatives are well publicized and well-known by employees.
  • Wherever possible include a respected eco-certification with your green products and services
  • Provide employees and consumers with ways to be active partners in your ecological or sustainability efforts.

Baggin’ CSR

I am a shameless handbag addict. It’s a silly vice, really. But handbags make me happy. And considering their functionality, I think that my addiction is perfectly acceptable.

In addition to all of the CSR and sustainability blogs that I read every day, I also allow myself 20 minutes each morning to indulge in The Purse Blog. And the recent post about Botkier’s generous move to donate 50% of revenues from the sale of their Joy Satchel to charity got me thinking. Can the world of CSR learn something from handbag manufacturers?

Botkier’s move notwithstanding, handbag designers have made some bold CSR decisions as of late. Louis Vuitton, arguably the world’s most iconic handbag designer, announced a few weeks ago that it had signed a five year agreement with SOS Children’s Villages to create a program called “Partnership for Children’s Futures”.  The partnership will help children who are orphaned, abandoned or whose families are unable to care for them.

Though it’s a generous move, I can’t help but find the alignment a bit strange – coming from a luxury mega-brand that charges upwards of $2,000 for some of their more basic designs. (think orphaned children in remote villages juxtaposed against the LV patchwork tribute bag – that retailed for $45,000). Perhaps LV identified mothers as a priority market, and mothers naturally care about children. In that sense, it’s a smart partnership.

Beyonce with a $45,000 LV Tribute Patchwork Tote

Beyonce with a $45,000 LV Tribute Patchwork Tote

Handbag designer Mat & Nat offers a collection of design-centric, eco-friendly, vegan handbags and their entire business model is built on a very solid and creative foundation of social responsibility. The linings of their current designs are all made from recycled water bottles, for instance.

So I think that my handbag indulgence has taught me valuable lessons that can be transferred to the professional world of CSR.

Passion Points:

• Giving back is a universal notion that has become a baseline standard even in luxury markets

• Think about causes that will resonate with your customers and target markets

• In a best case scenario, establish a business model that aligns seamlessly with a CSR mandate

Cause Splash vs Cause Marketing

The not for profit world has been abuzz in the past few weeks about a cause marketing campaign gone bad. While bloggers and pundits (here’s a good  example) have been quick to lambaste the charity for its lack of judgment, the real issue is that the company opted for cause “splash” and not more strategic cause marketing/CSR decisions.

Here’s the background. Susan G. Komen For The Cure – this is the organization that pioneered the pink ribbon campaign in support of breast cancer research – entered into a cause marketing initiative with KFC. In a program called Buckets for the Cure, KFC is donating 50 cents for every “pink” bucket of chicken sold and is aiming to make the largest-ever single corporation donation (over $8.5 million) to breast cancer research. The problem is that one week after launching the campaign, KFC introduced a new product called the Double Down sandwich  – two pieces of fried chicken, bacon and cheese. The critics jumped on KFC for promoting an extremely unhealthy food product that can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for breast cancer.

It is worth pointing out that despite furor in the blogosphere, to date the campaign has raised over $3.7 million and the website has inspired many people to share their breast cancer stories.

The real problem here is that KFC made a bad decision in its choice of cause marketing campaigns. The criticism of the campaign was foreseeable, particularly because KFC obviously knew when they were launching the Double Down sandwich. What’s even more striking is that the campaign doesn’t align with KFC’s business model. While it provides some temporary splash, in a year it will be forgotten because it really has nothing to do with what KFC does for a living. Contrast this campaign to other initiatives that are part of KFC’s CSR platform. The Colonel’s Scholars program provides scholarships enabling young people to go to college. This makes sense because KFC employs large numbers of high school students and the program aligns with founder Colonel Sanders’ legendary entrepreneurship; it focuses on “dreams and aspirations, and the perseverance to succeed.” KFC’s Animal Welfare Program is also well aligned providing expert oversight of the company’s practices and a supply chain component that includes farm audits.

Other examples of recently announced cause marketing campaigns illustrate the power of aligning with the corporate business model. Huggies (the diaper brand) has launched a program/site called HuggiesMomInspired.com through which it will provide venture capital to entrepreneurial moms.  Read more about it at http://bit.ly/d7QXty.  Barnum’s Animal Crackers recently launched a campaign that will see them raise funds to protect the endangered Asian tiger and raise awareness about endangered species.

Well-aligned cause marketing campaigns are more powerful because they become part of an integrated Corporate Social Responsibility platform. They provide greater opportunities for stakeholder engagement and are more enduring. Ultimately, they enhance the brand while allowing businesses to be good corporate citizens.

Passion Points

  • Cause marketing campaigns should align with your business model and should be just one element in an integrated and strategic CSR approach.
  • The most effective causes will relate to the products that you sell, the service that you provide, your articulated business philosophy or perhaps even personal philanthropic efforts of owners/executives.
  • Ensure that any upcoming marketing efforts won’t diminish the impact of prospective cause marketing campaigns.
  • Choose cause marketing campaigns that provide opportunities for employee engagement.