Globally, Washing detergent Tide helps underprivileged families clean their clothing; The Body Shop advocates for the rainforest; cosmetics brand M.A.C. has an Aids Fund. These are just some of what big brands are doing to better the world.
Consumers are increasingly expecting their brands to do social good rather than just provide products: so while the bad news for marketers is that they need to add another perspective to their branding strategies, the good news is, according to global consumer marketing and chief creative officer, Mitch Markson (pictured): CSR should be a collaborative effort of the entire company, from product development down to front-line sales.
“Sustainability marketing should seep all the way down to the architecture of the company, putting purpose into the DNA: it’s about looking at how the purpose will fit into the innovation, marketing and communications,” he said, adding that CSR is the third most important factor in terms of customer loyalty after quality and price.
As the notion of CSR is seen as brands’ point of entry by consumers, the portfolio of “doing good” has expanded drastically: only a few years ago, sustainability marketing meant supporting environmentalism, green efforts, or health issues; but now, they can be as general as “happiness” or as specific as bullying or modern-day slavery.
“Giving money to an NGO is not enough anymore. Consumers need to know what they endorse is doing more. Giving money is not a breakthrough.”
Markson’s advice? Go back to the original purpose of the brand and see if it can be elevated to a higher social service whether by developing something new or twisting an aspect of the brand to make it relevant to a social cause.
An automobile company, for example, can go as far as advocating for elderly health issues by developing accessible features for the aging population.
Another key to success in CSR efforts is public participation; and with the evolution of the digital, this is becoming much easier.
“Get the public to participate and get their hands dirty so it feels like they’re making a difference: in other words, let your consumers do something with you,” he said. “In the light of CSR, it’s about what brands can facilitate in this community: so rather than a hero, they become a hero maker.”
Though sustainability marketing looks nice on paper, Markson admitted that his greatest challenge now us to connect the dots across all disciplines to participate in CSR.
“Whether from public relations, to development to supply to marketing, there are opportunities to inject sustainability marketing in it,” he said. “It should be placed at the beginning of the life cycle like any other branding effort.”