Years ago, incorporating social responsibility into your brand meant writing a check to show your support for a cause. But today, consumers expect more from brands. Embracing social responsibility will require more effort, but social responsibility can propel your brand in ways that the best-laid marketing campaign could only dream of.
Across industries, corporations are taking steps to adopt socially-responsible practices and striving to make “making a difference” part of their brand image. These actions are resonating with consumers. Utilizing philanthropy can also benefit small businesses and startups.
Studies indicate that many consumers spend their hard-earned money with brands that have a conscience. In today’s landscape, people of all ages are trying to be more socially responsible in their own lives and want to shop at businesses that will support the lifestyle changes they’re attempting to make.
Regardless of the size of your business or startup, you have an opportunity (some customers would even argue an obligation) to make social responsibility part of your brand. When executed properly, incorporating philanthropic efforts can unite businesses, employees, and customers for good while still being good for your bottom line.
What is Social Responsibility?
Many companies have adopted the corporate social responsibility (CSR) business model. In this model, organizations demonstrate social accountability by conducting business in ways that positively contribute to the community and the environment. From philanthropy programs to volunteer efforts, CSR is a chance for corporations to enhance both society and their brand image.
Some brands take social responsibility even further and practice conscious capitalism which, according to Northeastern University, consists of: “While conscious capitalism still pursues a profit, it emphasizes doing so in ways that sincerely consider the interests of all principal stakeholders.” Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines are just a few examples of companies that incorporate social responsibility into every facet of their business. For these companies, profit doesn’t outrank their impact on society and the environment.
Why Being a Socially-Responsible Brand Matters
From big corporations to startups just getting off the ground, many organizations realize they don’t have to choose between making a difference and making a profit. You don’t need to decide between doing the right thing for your business and doing the right thing for the world. Like many brands, you'll realise that social responsibility can propel your brand after consumers encourage you toward it.
One generation, in particular, has spurred brands to embrace social responsibility: millennials. Just like older generations, millennials have distinct values impacting their spending habits.
But more so than their predecessors, millennials prefer to spend money with corporations and brands that align with their own values. Pro-social messages, sustainable manufacturing practices, and ethical business standards all matter deeply to millennials since such actions coincide with their own quests to lead more socially-conscious and sustainable lives.
If you’re thinking millennials aren’t your business’s target market, think again. As Boomers get older, millennials are getting closer to controlling the majority of wealth in the world. The future of your business depends on understanding millennial consumers.
Essential to that understanding is recognizing this generation’s jaded view toward wholly self-interested marketing. Millennials want to shop with brands that more evenly divide their efforts between profit-seeking and improving society. From recycling and lowering food waste to marching for social justice, millennials have demonstrated that they believe individual action can make a difference. However, they know they can’t change the world on their own and want brands to take up the torch as well.
What Social Responsibility Looks Like At The Corporate Level
According to a study by the Edelman Trust Barometer, 80% of the general population believes that businesses can turn a profit while improving the communities they are based in. With such overwhelming consumer interest in social responsibility, companies are seeking opportunities to integrate societal contributions into their core brand. At the corporate-level, changes have been and are being made in areas such as packaging, employment, pricing, labeling, and the global supply chain.
Apple CEO Tim Cook offers a good example of what social responsibility looks like at the corporate-level. In recent years, he’s become very vocal and uses his platform as leader of one of the most well-known brands around the world to speak on important societal issues. Furthermore, Cook ensures that Apple’s budget (where and how the company invests) as well as how it operates addresses the issues he speaks on.
At many companies, social responsibility takes the form of employee volunteer programs.
For example, at the outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia’s Ventura headquarters and store, employees organize an annual 5k run. Not only is all the money raised donated to local nonprofit groups, but employees get a morale boost from working at a company that gives back to the community. Research suggests that volunteer programs and corporate-level activism make a company more attractive to top millennial talent and increases employee loyalty.
Successful corporations also know that their brand reputation starts with how their own employees perceive them. CEOs who position their companies to appeal to the values of the millennial-dominated workforce will also appeal to conscious consumers. Businesses that make their company-wide commitment to social responsibility known are the clear choice for an increasing number of consumers.
How Your Small Business Can Utilize Philanthropy
Regardless of your marketing or operations budget, there are many ways social responsibility can propel your brand. But as you begin propelling your brand through philanthropy, don’t forget the importance of being transparent and honest about your efforts. Consumers expect you to be public and open about your initiatives.
Now, here are five ways you can boost your brand reputation with social responsibility:
1. Support changes your consumers are trying to make
When you’re looking for ways to incorporate social responsibility into your brand, start with simply supporting the changes your customers are working toward implementing in their own lives. Many consumers are taking steps toward embracing sustainability and will appreciate businesses that have their backs.
For example, in their advertising, Colgate encourages people to save water while brushing their teeth. This messaging aligns with the eco-friendly habits many consumers are trying to adopt. The toothpaste brand is positioning itself as a company that understands the power of individual choices and values protecting the environment.
2. Get creative with your products and services
Socially-responsible consumers are on the lookout for products and services that will help them live a sustainable lifestyle. In every industry, there are opportunities for innovation. Even if you don’t come up with a product or service that directly helps customer practice sustainability, you can regularly reevaluate your business practices to ensure any negative impact on the world is as minimal as possible.
Take the creative response of California restaurant owners to the state’s drought. Many switched from traditional dish-washing methods which required a lot of water and, instead, opted to start pre-cleaning plates with compressed air. For their efforts, they gained respect from diners while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprints.
3. Encourage your employees to take part
Following big brands like Patagonia’s lead, small businesses can encourage employees to get involved as a way to cultivate a socially-responsible image. Making social responsibility part of your brand DNA starts at home. Do you know the causes your employees care about? Are you helping them live a life they’re proud of? Philanthropy can foster a sense of community in your workplace.
Talk to your employees and learn what kind of volunteer program they’re interested in participating in. Choosing to support causes your employees care about will add a level of authenticity to the program and your overall efforts. In addition to positively impacting recruitment, retention, and community relations, an employee volunteer program sets the stage for a variety of team-building activities which will encourage cross-departmental collaboration.
4. Diversify your campaigns
For many brands, the Black Lives Matter movement opened their eyes to who they have and (more importantly, have not) represented in their advertising and social media campaigns. Consumers called out businesses that claimed to value diversity but had a track record of featuring models and influencers that closely resemble one another.
Even if you have a limited advertising budget, your startup or small business still needs a social media presence. Social media is cost-effective and the perfect platform to share your pro-social initiatives. From the influencers you work with to the user-generated content you repost, make a conscious effort to be inclusive.
5. Demonstrate your awareness
If the fear of making a misstep or alienating some consumers is holding you back from embracing social responsibility, then hear this: It’s going to happen. In such a highly-polarized world you’re not going to be able to make everyone happy all of the time, but that shouldn’t hold you back from trying to do the right thing.
Above all, show that you take awareness seriously. Share how you’re educating yourself and your team about various issues.
It’s okay to not know everything as long as you’re willing to learn and admit to your mistakes. Remember, consumers will be able to tell when your pro-social initiatives are disingenuous.
Propel your Brand with Social Responsibility - The Takeaway
It is important that business owners create a culture of social responsibility and ethics because people want to conduct business with a company they trust. Incorporating social responsibility or sustainability as a business isn't as difficult as it sounds. The way a company responds to the needs of the stakeholders and consumers can reveal the character and moral rules that govern their conduct. Social responsibility can propel your brand means two things: caring for social causes and being social about how you care. Don’t just talk the talk. Make sure to walk the walk, too, and be visible about it. Use your marketing talents to your advantage — in business, a little humble-brag goes a long way.
Just make sure it’s sincere.
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