According to a 2017 worldwide Oeko Tex study, 70% of consumers wish to invest in a more sustainable and eco-friendly consumption. And according to a Cone Communications study, 87% of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. Now that consumers are becoming consum’actors, especially thanks to social media, their resolutions affect brands more than ever. Boycott calls have already led several companies to change their ways and act more ethically. And the importance of corporate social responsibility has grown significantly in response to these changes in consumer behavior.
CSR has grown to play a significant role in customer acquisition. Why? Because it shows that brands care. The success of CSR investments reflects nothing more than the growing customer demand for a more sustainable market. Consumers pay close attention to brands’ moral values and social initiatives, especially in times of crisis. However, communicating about CSR efforts is not always all that obvious.
How can brands efficiently incorporate CSR to their marketing strategy?
A CSR and marketing strategy in line with a brand’s corporate communication
The key element to successfully communicate about your CSR strategy is its consistency with the brand’s identity. When building brand image, a company is assimilated to a vision, a history and values that are meant to define it. But beyond telling consumers a story, brands have to prove they don’t make empty promises. That’s why marketing shouldn’t be the main driving force of a brand’s CSR efforts.
A message that matches reality
Actions speak louder than words. If you do not want consumers to question your brand’s integrity and sincerity, you have to provide them with concrete projects and accomplishments.
For instance, LVMH marked the last international day for biological diversity with a subtle marketing move. They changed their homepage image for an artistic illustration and a few words reaffirming their commitment to sustainable development alongside UNESCO. The homepage was directly linked to an article published on their blog giving key figures, actions and statements by Antoine Arnault, member of the Board of Directors of LVMH.
Initiatives such as this one allow brands to highlight their CSR efforts without turning it into a marketing stunt. It is also a way to show the consistency and justification of the brand’s commitment to this specific cause. Fulfilling promises and achieving results is essential before incorporating CSR to your marketing strategy.
Brands now also have to face the birth of a new type of competition: companies that build themselves around sustainability and ethical consumption. For example, the eyewear brand Jimmy Fairly has made “Buy One, Give One” their brand concept. For each pair bought, they give one to someone in need. Most of the digitally native vertical brands (DNVB) also base their marketing strategy on being sustainable: eco-friendly water bottles, toothbrushes, vegan and cruelty-free beauty products and so on… These brands have made social responsibility their DNA.
Avoiding communication faux-pas
As stated earlier, marketing should not be what drives your CSR efforts, and the way you communicate on it should make that crystal clear. Getting your communication wrong could cost you many customers. The rise of greenwashing fosters CSR skepticism. In fact, in western countries, more than 77% of consumers find it difficult to trust companies.*
*Ford 2020 trends survey
This is when credibility plays a determining role. Not only does your brand have to bring forward verifiable claims to convince skeptical customers you are not trying to fool them. But you must also choose wisely the field you engage in so that it doesn’t seem unfit for your brand. It will be harder to justify promoting your CSR efforts in your marketing strategy if there is little link with the brand’s usual line of communication. For example, fast fashion brands pledging sustainability to customers has raised a lot of criticism. It has been noted by several media that some of their CSR reports and declared initiatives did not match their expansion goals. The disrespect and lack of transparency regarding manufacturing and human-rights have also led consumers to boycott some of the world’s leading brands.
Ideas to promote your CSR initiatives
Offering dedicated products
A great way to reach consumers is through the products you sell. In order to highlight a partnership with an association or a NGO, a brand can create specific products and donate the earnings. For example, the brand Chloé created a few limited edition products called “Girls forward” for UNICEF. The sales will finance programs to better educate young girls all around the world and improve gender equality.
Such a strategy encourages additional purchases and shows the brand’s commitment in a good light. The limited number of products create a sense of urgency that’s usually positive for sales. It also enables the brand to control exactly how much money they are willing to donate through this project.
Gift cards are the ideal means to make your CSR initiatives known because they are all about generosity. As we’ve seen in other articles, they have tremendous untapped potential. Whether you have already added them to your marketing strategy or not, they can very easily be used to make your CSR efforts known to customers.
Offer your customers “Buy One, Give One” gift cards. For each gift card bought, they receive another gift card with an amount that will be donated to a charity. For example, if a customer buys a €100 gift card, €10 are added on a special gift card that will allow the recipient to donate to a charity. This adds value to your gift cards.
Customers looking for gifts will enjoy being able to give something a little more special. Through one gift card, the customer’s loved one will be a giver as well as a recipient. Donating generates pleasure and pride, adding this feature to your gift cards will put customers in an even better state of mind. It will make your gift cards, and by extension your brand, stand out from others in their eyes. This feeling will make them want to visit your stores again.
Expressing values through art
A great way to spark interest is through art, for example, by sharing works by selected artists that tackle the same issues as your brand. Art is a means of communication that is very closely linked to social progress, and Millennials are particularly sensitive to such strategies. Future consumers want brands that proudly voice their beliefs and values.
For instance, Miu Miu has stood out by showing short films directed by women at Venice Film festivals. This action highlights the art of film-making and the feminist cause, which are both part of Miu Miu’s values.
Finally, it is no secret social media are now a vital part of any brand’s marketing strategy. Writing press releases, highlighting partnerships, engaging with consumers… it is very important to create an online content that will illustrate your brand image to curious customers.
CSR should be at the heart of brand identity. To be credible, brands should communicate on their initiatives through every channel available : products, gift cards, social media… They should prove these beliefs are an integral part of their identity. What’s more, it is very important to stay focused on the larger picture. You cannot communicate about CSR efforts out of the blue to increase sales at a given moment. It is a long term commitment that can, if promoted wisely, significantly strengthen your brand image in the eyes of consumers.
Suggestions for further reading
Giftcards : a formidable marketing tool