Corporate Social Responsibility is not new, but consumers’ expectations surrounding it are changing. Businesses know that consumers want to support companies that share their values, but this presents businesses with the challenge of figuring out how corporate social responsibility fits in with their corporate purpose.
Finding Your Corporate Social Responsibility Purpose
Businesses can overcome these challenges by asking themselves the following questions about their business, brand, values, and customers.
Which Industry Does My Business Fall Under?
Consumers expect businesses across industries to adopt socially responsibility policies and programs without exceptions.
A recent report on social responsibility in business showed that most people expect the food industry, including food retailers (70%) and restaurants (62%), as well as the technology (70%), fashion (65%), health and beauty (64%), sports (55%), and travel (52%) industries to commit to corporate social responsibility.
However, how businesses across these different industries approach corporate social responsibility will differ widely.
For example, how the food and technology industries approach social responsibility are widely different, given the differences in the products and services they offer consumers.
Businesses should consider the industry they fall under, that industry’s history and relationship with corporate social responsibility, and which issues make the most sense for their brand.
Which Issues are Relevant to Your Brand?
After considering their industry, companies should consider which issues are most relevant to their brand. This may differ for businesses even within the same industry.
The food industry, for example, encompasses producers, wholesalers, retailers, and restaurants. Although all of these sub-industries are food-related, how they approach corporate social responsibility will differ.
Food insecurity is one issue businesses in the food industry might want to address. Restaurants, like the Chicken & Rice Guys, donate food to local homeless shelters and soup kitchens.
“Being a modern, socially-conscious company means reflecting honestly on how we impact the communities within which we operate,” said Steve Collicelli, business manager of Chicken & Rice Guys. “Making and serving hot, delicious food is what we do best, so it’s only natural we focus on issues of food insecurity and hunger within our community.”
Food retailers are also uniquely-positioned to address food insecurity. Hungry Harvest is a food delivery program that focuses on addressing local food insecurity and supporting local farmers.
Both Chicken & Rice Guys and Hungry Harvest make social responsibility a central component of their brand purpose by focusing on issues that are relevant to their business model and industry.
What Do Your Customers Care About?
A business’s corporate social responsibility efforts should not cost them customers, but rather, it should help build brand loyalty. Businesses need to research what their customers care about to develop a corporate social responsibility program that they will support.
The fashion industry, for example, has been recently criticized for the spike in clothing waste that is associated with “fast fashion.” Fast fashion refers to brands, like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21, that offer fashionable clothing at an affordable price.
In response, there has been a trend of “upcycling” clothing in the “refashion” movement to reduce clothing waste.
Many businesses are working to address the issue of waste in the fashion industry by using recycled materials to manufacture products, which 48% of people think is something the fashion industry should be doing regularly.
Larger companies, like Adidas, is one of the many businesses who are phasing out unrecycled plastic in their products.
Efforts like these are generally well-received by customers who share these values.
Businesses that take the time to get to know their customers will be able to choose social responsibility policies that align with their branding strategy and customers’ values.
How Will This Impact Our PR and Outreach Strategies?
PR and corporate social responsibility should be viewed separately, but they are related.
“Corporate social responsibility has PR value, but these programs should not be designed or executed just for PR purposes,” said Jen Bemisderfer, managing director of RH Strategic, a PR agency in Seattle.
Without a PR strategy in place, a business’s corporate social responsibility efforts might stagnate. However, approaching social responsibility solely for PR efforts will make your brand look opportunistic and inauthentic.
Business leadership can strike a balance by reflecting both introspectively on their brand values and extrovertedly on what their customers care about most. After a business defines its corporate social responsibility efforts, they need to work with PR firms to develop a communication strategy.
A Business’s Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts Should Be Both Authentic and Strategic
When it comes to corporate social responsibility, businesses don’t have to choose between authenticity and strategy, and they shouldn’t.
By thinking critically about their industry, their customers’ values, and how corporate social responsibility fits naturally with their brand identity, businesses can develop corporate social responsibility strategies that benefit the cause they choose to support, associate their brand with the socially-conscious movement, and increase customer loyalty.
Toby Cox is a content writer and developer for Clutch, a B2B research and reviews firm. She reports on topics related to public relations and emerging technologies. You can reach her on Twitter @tobyatclutch.