Corporate social responsibility is nothing new, but in today’s climate the concept is being reintroduced as a need for all businesses. For many years, businesses were able to keep “work” and “play” separate—and get away with it. However, the past 12-plus months have taught us that consumers want more out of corporations.
Defined, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business model that keeps companies socially responsible. It calls on businesses to be mindful of their impact on society, the environment and the economy. CSR is not just a slice of an organization but operates alongside a company’s core values. The term corporate social responsibility was originated in 1953, evolving from ideas that date back to the 1800s.
Today’s resurgence of the popularity of CSR leaves us with one key idea: A corporation cannot build like and trust with their consumers anymore without contributing positively to society. With current consumers becoming more socially aware, an especially key trait of Gen Z, companies need to be transparent on how they’re contributing to positive change.
Where is CSR today?
At myWHY Agency, our work and commitment has always been around supporting brands that are purpose driven. Each new client we work with has a deeper passion for what they do, and for how they’re contributing to society. Creating better-for-you projects is only the surface of what our clients do because each brand extends itself to be socially responsible as an organization. To us, purpose, passion and success all go hand-in-hand.
I recently tapped into our account supervisor, Dayna Simms (who has spent nearly 15 years planning, crafting and executing CSR programs for companies such as Bayer, HSA Bank and Smithfield Foods) to share some insights into CSR. She shares:
“The bottom line: Your commitment to CSR, backed by actionable programs and transparent results, projects your license to operate as a business. It’s not only what sets you apart from your competition, but also is a demand from today’s customers and other stakeholders.”
Dayna confirms that not too long ago, CSR was merely a buzzword to many organizations. The steps they would take would look more like building an extra webpage that uses words like “green,” “sustainable,” and “impact.” Luckily, today it is much more. Dayna sees CSR ingrained into a company’s mission, vision and values. More and more businesses alike are realizing the importance of CSR and embracing change for the greater good. In fact, S&P 500 Index Companies published sustainability/responsibility reports in 2019, according to the Governance and Accountability Institute.
So why CSR, and why now?
As I’ve mentioned above, CSR is not a new concept or practice. So why is there a recent push toward holding businesses accountable? This shift can be broken down into three main ideas: A cultural shift, the influencer shift and the competitive shift.
1. A cultural shift
To put it simply, the needs of our customers and employees have changed. Conversations are shifting toward global challenges and the work that needs to be put into seeing change. Individuals and businesses alike are being held accountable.
Think back to corporate ads and communication from just 10 years ago and you can see just how things have changed. A decade ago, you were not seeing ads used to communicate a company’s CSR plan, but today that message is what creates trust and compassion between them and their consumers.
Within organizations, things have shifted too. While plenty of work is still to be done, employees are being offered flexible working environments, volunteer days, even diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitments and programming. These resources can be worth an incredible amount to employees, and companies are finally waking up to it.
2. The influencer shift
Tik Tok stars are the new celebrities, and celebrities are finding their way to social media platforms. As we consume their content, they are impacting the way we see our world. With the emergence of influencers (both macro and micro), we are seeing a shift from fact to emotion in our media. We are no longer solely listening to facts presented by experts or information directly from companies. We are also listening to those who have reach online. Influencers have the ability to shift the dialogue, which has already led to changes in industries that are beyond science.
3. The competitive shift
Companies more than ever need to stand out among competition. In 2021, how can a brand differentiate? In general, consumers want to reward responsible companies and brands. Loyalty is built with brands that help them add value to their lives and the world. CSR is an excellent differentiator. According to a 2017 Harris poll, 80% of consumers would be loyal to brands that helped them live their new values. It is important to think about your operations, products and services to determine if there is any opportunity to utilize CSR for competitive differentiation.
In the fast-food space, differentiation is huge for standing out among competition. Offering nutrition-friendly and meatless options are both trending with modern consumers. Wendy’s is the newbie in offering a plant-based sandwich option on its menu. Triple Pundit reports that, “unlike McDonald’s McPlant, Taco Bell’s Naked Chalupa or Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, Wendy’s new black bean burger […] is not trying to mimic meat. They are celebrating the vegetables. The new bean burger is meant for ‘flexitarian,’ and not ‘vegetarian’ diets.” This provides an excellent differentiator opportunity for Wendy’s and will be interesting to track its results based on this unique positioning.
Another form of competition is employee engagement and retention. If done right, CSR can help increase employee retention and engagement through specialized and unique programs and offerings, drive operational efficiencies with lower labor costs and energy savings, increase revenues with customer growth and brand equity, and minimize risk with good disclosure practices, and enhanced visibility into operations.
Not only that, but CSR can also increase shareholder value, contribute to risk reduction and increase market value. Project ROI reported in 2015 that CSR had the potential to increase shareholder value over a 15-year period by $1.28 billion. With value that spreads across market value, marketing, sales and HR, it’s safe to say CSR is a sound investment.
In a follow-up to this article I'll provide steps for implementing CSR into your business.
Emerald-Jane Hunter is the Ringleader of myWHY Agency, managing strategic communications and crafting integrated marketing campaigns aimed at further elevating and amplifying brand voices.