The link between a company’s strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) is inevitably tied to its brand perception.
Speaking at Marketing’s PR Asia 2015 conference, Shweta Shukla, director of communications & government affairs – Asia Pacific, Kimberly-Clark (KC), presented a case study on how a company can go beyond corporate green-washing to implement truly effective CSR policies that enhance corporate reputations.
For KC, it partnered with various NGO’s to increase local participation for its CSR initiatives. This helped to forge a new, profitable and more sustainable business future for both KC and the communities that it has adopted as part of its CSR drive.
Here are the five tangible ways CSR can impact your business.
1. Build the topline for participating brands
Focusing on an impact is important to CSR goals in order it to be effective and aligned with business objectives. Firstly, KC worked with various social entrepreneurs to create an impactful CSR initiative at the local as well as national levels.
Secondly, Shukla advised that there be a systematic metric for measuring “hardcore incremental sales” during the period of the CSR campaign that’s been launched. For instance, companies can tie up with partnering retailers for their brands such as Watsons, NTUC, Cold Storage, and engage in market research to measure the total sales for the participating brand during the active period of the CSR campaign in question. Any increased sales during that period can be attributed to the topline and the CSR initiative, Shukla said.
In addition, measuring the equity of the brand is just as important: “Do customers end up trusting and loving the brand more after CSR? Did brand perception change in any way?”
Shukla explained that the purchase intent of the consumer before and after the CSR initiative is a measurable pursuit and that for companies like KC, it has become a standard practice for its market research teams. Similarly, she advised other companies to conduct such standard practices if they want to truly gauge the efficacy and effectiveness of their CSR efforts.
2. Create a competitive edge with customers
Shukla advised that having strong ethics and CSR policies would also make an effective brand differentiation.
According to a Nielsen study, 53% of consumers prefer to buy brands that are making a difference to a relevant cause. Naturally, with enhanced brand perception, a well publicisied and impactful CSR campaign can help to further propel a brand’s name among its competitors.
Shukla cited the effect of its CSR campaign ‘Keep Korea Green Campaign’ that has led to KC’s strong corporate reputation in the country.
“We are ranked among the other bigwigs such as Samsung for over 11 years in Korea. That’s a track record we attribute to our CSR drive,” she said.
In Singapore, it launched a ‘Kleenex-Look after our forests’ campaign to educate the consumer about responsible forestry during the haze crisis. For this, Shukla pointed out that it was a cause that intersected with its corporate business interest as it helped to drive support and sales for the brand.
For a successful CSR cause, the campaign must be commercialised across all touch points and include a social media campaign, TV roll outs and plenty of point-of-sales materials to drive sales.
3. Facilitate market entry/expansion
Building an effective CSR program gives a brand competitive edge with key partners and consumers.
Because many customers have their own agenda and CSR priorities, brands must ensure that their CSR efforts align with these values in order to drive footfall and support for the brand. Consequently, CSR can help facilitate entry into a new market before a company decides to set up.
For instance, a CSR initiative requires interactions with the government, communities and stakeholders prior to its launch. This first impression is crucial in setting up a successful launch pad for future business opportunities and can help aid the brand’s debut in the market. This is especially true for emerging markets, said Shukla, where competitor brands flood the market while consumers are still learning about the brands they can trust.
Thus, CSR can build the right reputation and trust for smooth entry into a new market. Likewise, these efforts also help for market expansion goals in the brand’s existing markets.
4. Can attract and retain talent
As more consumers want to align their purchase intent with socially responsible companies, so too employees who want to be associated with a company that helps resolve social issues.
Over 69% of employees choose to work for companies that are socially responsible, according to a Nielsen report. Unsurprisingly, a strong CSR reputation can attract and retain talent for a company.
When asked how and why KC engage its employees in CSR campaigns, Shukla said that such an engagement helps to ensure the campaigns’ sustainability while helping increase retention rate among its employees.
For example, its CSR initiative to promote sanitation in India managed to galvanise employee advocates from its offices in Chicago to Bangladesh. These employees continue to be a part of a capabilities building team that partners with a local NGO in Swadha, India where the CSR drive still runs.
In Korea, its CSR campaign was initiated more broadly at the corporate level, with KC visibility ensured on pack and via corporate advertising to increase brand and corporate pride among its employees who participate in the campaign.
“Our ‘Keep Korea Green’ campaign was completely employee-driven; our employees wait for that time of the year to plant trees with their colleagues. Increasing employee engagement in our CSR programmes is important; we continuously look for ways to include that and how we can keep building that through every programme,” Shukla said.
5. Create a safety net during crisis
Having a solid CSR approach can be a great safety net for when issues and crises arise. However, “You have to talk the talk and walk the CSR walk for this to actually work,” she said.
A company that is known to be proactive in social causes has built its reputation positively, and this can act as a buffer for when a PR crisis strikes.
What is the future of CSR?
Shukla predicted that there will be a paradigm shift in CSR: “It’s going to be less about standalone philanthropy, and more about creating a shared value that everyone supports.”
At the same time, a CSR approach for a company will move from a PR or comms responsibility to a board room initiative: “CEOs need to ask themselves, ‘Can I impact a societal issue or cause, while being profitable and making economic sense’?”
When these concerns align, a company’s CSR can have more scalable growth in terms of business opportunities.
The power of digital will also mean that brands have the opportunity to pass the torch to their consumers when it comes to making genuine impact. Social media provides the platform for brands to empower consumers in their CSR efforts, further elevating its social impact.