We live in a social age where everything is...well…social. We define our tastes, attitudes and beliefs by “likes” and “dislikes” on Facebook. We share information, photos and data with the world on various social channels such as LinkedIn based on what we favor (or not) in our personal and professional lives. And managing one’s reputation is now about a lot more than demonstrating self-control at a school dance or on a date!
The attributes that we would ascribe to an individual are now becoming ones that companies are adopting in their quest to succeed and rise above the competition. A company’s values and how they communicate them are now becoming key selling points in public relations and marketing materials as a way for companies to differentiate themselves. Additionally, companies are also recognizing the benefit of corporate social responsibility programs as a way to elevate their values and align themselves with specific audiences.
Much has been written about this shift to organizations wearing their values on their proverbial sleeves. Ronald J. Alsop (The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation) says that “the most respected companies build names for themselves by developing practices that integrate economic and social considerations into their competitive strategies.” And Charles Fombrun, (Reputation), said, “They not only do things right; they do the right things.”
To build a strong brand image, organizations should not only think about what differentiates them; they need to ensure their brand has its own story. Storytelling is fundamental to human nature and allows for the positioning of a brand more in human terms than marketing-speak. This is becoming particular relevant as social media becomes fully ingrained in our personal and professional lives. While there are benefits to this from a PR perspective, social media also makes it untenable to promote a corporate image or message that is disconnected from what people say and think about your brand. The question is then, how do companies become likable to their target audiences, and how can they create the kind of image that is perpetuated by consumers?
As referenced earlier, corporate social responsibility (or CSR) is becoming a key way companies can help align themselves with the social issues of importance to consumers. With this increasing drive toward humanizing companies, CSR programs are gaining favor. Consumers gravitate to brands that invest in corporate social responsibility, and are choosing cause-based brands over charitable giving as their way of giving back.
As the folks at Nielson state, “It’s no longer a question of if consumers care about social impact. Consumers do care and demonstrate this through their actions. Companies need to focus on how their brand can effectively create shared value by marrying the appropriate social cause and consumer segments.”
According to a study by Good.Must.Grow, a marketing firm that specializes in social responsibility, 30 percent of consumers said they plan to increase the amount of goods or services they buy from socially responsible companies, mostly because it is an easier way for them to give.
Another study – the Nielson Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility, examined more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries globally to better understand the impact of CSR on consumer behavior:
- 67% prefer to work for socially responsible companies
- 55% will pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact
- 52% made at least one purchase in the past six months from one or more socially responsible companies
- 44% volunteer and/or donate to organizations engaged in social and environmental programs
CSR also influences brand equity, which is defined as the assets associated with a brand name that increases the value of the product or service of an organization. Strong brand equity can help an organization distinguish itself from its competitors and also provide financial benefits. Specifically, CSR can help organization build brand equity by:
- Building brand awareness
- Enhancing brand image
- Establishing brand credibility
- Evoking brand feelings
- Creating a sense of brand community
- Elevating brand engagement
So – how does a brand successfully communicate the values of its organization? To start:
- Be clear, actionable and global in communicating the vision and value of the organization
- Get buy-in from the C-suite; organizational leadership needs to make CSR a priority
- As with any communications strategy, make sure the message, tone and look and feel of all communications are consistent and align with your organization’s core values.
Firms with a better CSR reputation have a much higher ability to foster desired supportive behaviors among consumers, including buying their products, recommending their company, or trusting the company to do the right thing when faced with difficulties or disruptions.