Telstra reportedly got itself into a pickle with one of its major customers, the Catholic Church, last week over its support for marriage equality. Telstra, along with many other companies, had expressed support for marriage equality in a full page advertisement in The Australian placed by Australian Marriage Equality (AME) as part of a campaign to lobby the Australian government. Telstra decided to withdraw its support from the campaign after being contacted (bullied?) by the Catholic Church who is a Telstra customer though their schools across Australia.
While Telstra’s endeavour backfired in this instance it did prompt me to consider how companies might try to use corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a marketing strategy to try to enhance their brand appeal by expressing the company values they wish to align with consumer sentiment through their CSR policies and actions and by marketing those policies and actions.
Corporate social responsibility could take the form of care for the environment, social issues such as diversity and inclusion, or charitable or community based benefits.
Marketing Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility
CSR can be a competitive advantage by differentiating a company from its competitors. Consumers may feel a stronger connection to brands whose values reflect their own and that they, as consumers, can contribute to making the world a better place by supporting brands that have a socially responsible agenda and/or practices. This may lead to customers switching to the more responsible brand, increased loyalty to that brand and repeat purchases. Customers may also be willing to pay a premium for products under that brand.
Brands known for their CSR are more likely to be employers of choice. CSR can lead to proud employees who are more engaged with the corporate mission of the company leading to higher morale, productivity, loyalty and innovation in product design. Employees may also be content with lower pay feeling they are working for a higher cause.
Corporate social responsibility can also reduce the required marketing spend as customers and employees become advocates of the brand. The CSR actions the company takes may also be reported in the media.
Here are some interesting facts about corporate social responsibility:
Many brands’ CSR activities are no more than greenwashing, a practice where a brand only claims to be environmentally friendly or the marketing spend on promoting their CSR is more than the spend on the actual green practices. For a brand to benefit their CSR values they must appear genuine or the result will be ineffective, or worse, damage the credibility of other aspects of the brand.
Just as social responsibility can benefit brands the opposite can be true; events demonstrating a brand’s lack of social responsibility can also have a negative impact on a brand’s perception. BP’s “every dollar counts” attitude led to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, one of the worst oil spills ever. Following the oil spill a survey showed 80% of consumers had no trust in BP or only some trust in BP.
I do prefer brands practicing CSR. I use the some of the Earthchoice products shown above because I believe they are environmentally friendly. I am also a Coca Cola consumer because I like the brand despite the fact I believe their CSR efforts are nothing more than a marketing strategy.
Do you find companies promoting CSR practices credible or do you see it as just another marketing ploy? As a consumer are you more engaged with brands whose values align with your own or champions causes close to your heart? Would you turn away from a company who offended your values or demonstrated serious social irresponsibility?
Inoue, Y, & Kent, A 2014, ‘A Conceptual Framework for Understanding the Effects of Corporate Social Marketing on Consumer Behavior’, Journal Of Business Ethics, 121, 4, pp. 621-633, Health Business Elite, EBSCOhost, viewed 23 April 2016.
Jahdi, K, & Acikdilli, G 2009, ‘Marketing Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Marriage of Convenience or Shotgun Wedding?’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 88, no. 1, pp. 103-113. Available from: 10.1007/s10551-009-0113-1. [23 April 2016].
Khalili, O, ‘Why Your Company Should Have A Social Mission, Cause Capitalism’ , retrieved 23/04/2016, <http://causecapitalism.com/why-your-company-should-have-a-social-mission/>
Levinson, JC, & Horowitz, S 2010, ‘Guerrilla marketing goes green : winning strategies to improve your profits and your planet’, Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, c2010.