After more than twenty years of ‘corporate social responsibility’, you will struggle to find a brand that cannot articulate its approach to ‘giving back’. But like any campaign stretched over such a length of time, the measures of success have to evolve.
With the progression of CSR comes heightened consumer expectation for more. You could argue where the benchmark currently sits (sustainable products, workforce diversity, allocation of charitable funds) but really that would be missing the point. Today’s measure of a responsible brand is the extent to which it listens to, and acts upon, social good.
Less a box-ticking exercise, and more a process of ongoing engagement, CSR has evolved into brand purpose; a central business pillar that now underpins the whole organisation. Brand purpose is way bigger than what CSR began as. But what hasn’t changed, is that embracing its ideals can benefit business growth as much as it can wider society.
The notion that ‘doing good is good for business’ has existed for many years in the form of famous executive quotes. But now we’re seeing the extent to which market forces have bought into this ideal.
Dow Jones states that investors are looking at companies’ environmental policies and track records before making purchasing decisions. Reporting on sustainability is now mandatory in markets like UK and Germany. The title of ‘Chief Sustainability Officer’ is now officially a thing. All of this shows the potential for growth in the area of social good, and the excitement that is held about this area.
For the consumer, who ultimately determines the success of brand purpose, the appetite for brands that embrace social good is not only healthy, but growing. After commissioning research of 4,000 consumers split across the UK and Germany, WE found:
While this figure is slightly more than the Germans (who say they would pay 9% more) it’s remarkable to note that consumers in both markets will still prioritise that which serves social good, despite wider economic concerns.
What is more, this is a trend that will continue into the future. The younger generation in our study were more prepared than other age groups to support ‘better’ products. In the 18-24 group, UK shoppers are prepared to pay 15% more for a better, fairer product. The figure is 13% more among 18-24s in Germany. In both cases, this is the highest percentage from across all age groups.
When compared to factors like price, functionality and build quality, it’s notable that such a healthy number of shoppers will still think about sustainability before purchasing. Even if the Germans (58%) place a lot more emphasis on this issue than UK consumers (40%), there’s still evidence of a positive consumer trend here.
Over a third (38%) of UK consumers and nearly half (48%) of German consumers believe their purchasing decisions are good for the environment and wider society, versus 19% and 21% respectively who believe they are doing harm with their purchases.
We can see, therefore, that the consumer has more than a passing focus on the social good of brands when they come to purchase products. This underlines that brand purpose must be more than a ‘moment in time’ campaign play – just like CSR, consumers need to see your long-standing commitment to doing better business across generations.
The ultimate question is therefore: how to realise brand purpose and social good, to the benefit of everyone? If you follow the Stengel 50, an analysis of the world’s 50 fastest-growing brands, you’ll be familiar with the idea of higher purpose that is given here. In short, it’s about finding and showcasing that element of your business that can be shown to improve lives.
To me, this is a huge communications opportunity for what WE calls transformational story making.
Consumers who can understand and empathise with your brand values will respond more faithfully than those who might read about isolated gestures of goodwill. Refine, and then talk about, your commitment to delivering a fairer deal, greater equality or increased opportunities. Displaying brand purpose can be done through below-the-line communications (like your PR, for example) and then backed up with above-the-line actions such as physical, on-product certification. If you are approaching brand purpose in this way, it’s infinitely more likely that consumers will respond.
The modern challenge for CSR therefore becomes, find your stories of good. These truly transformational stories are able to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes for both brand and stakeholder. Across the whole organisation, define your brand purpose, integrate it into the centre of your communications strategy and put it in motion across the entire media ecosystem. It could be crucial to how your brand is perceived in another twenty years.