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Your company wants to do more good. Great! But when a company aligns itself with a corporate social responsibility (CSR) cause, it isn’t just taking on a random issue. This process is as precious as a product launch, needing almost constant attention.
As with any service rollout, how you present it is crucial. You want to be informative and persuasive without laying it on too thick with braggadocious language about the initiatives.
Promoting CSR is as much about educating the public as it is about creating a buzz. Education creates awareness, which can ultimately lead to advocacy. And people will happily embrace socially conscious businesses if they like their vibe. According to the Conscious Consumer Spending Index, about 46 percent of customers expect to boost their spending with conscious companies — up 15 percent from a 2019 report.
To get that buy-in, however, your messaging should be dripping in humility rather than hubris.
1. Be memorable
In a Sprout Social study on brand voice, two elements that can help a brand’s voice stand out from the crowd are distinct personality (33 percent) and compelling storytelling (32 percent). While those trends correspond to marketing as a whole, they show that the best way to promote something — especially CSR — is to be memorable.
In the case of CSR, going over the top with promotion can sour the public on your message and cause. It can even set false expectations, potentially turning audience members away from your initiative if claims don’t happen exactly as you promised.
2. Stay transparent
CSR messaging should be about introducing uninformed swaths of people to your cause with transparent and helpful information. It needs to point customers toward results and opportunities for social good. But if it rings even the tiniest bit opportunistic and boastful, the public will know.
Take a look at how Subway had to backtrack at the beginning of the pandemic due to the actions of one of its Calgary-based eateries. The restaurant offered customers a free medical mask with the purchase of two or more sandwiches, causing the corporate office to apologize immediately amid shortages of personal protective equipment.
Instead of overpromising and overpromoting the virtues of a CSR initiative, companies should stick to the facts. In these cases, they can stand out by adhering to the overall directive of their CSR.
Don’t toot your CSR horn too much. Humility breeds compassion, empathy and a lack of risk, to name a few benefits. When navigating the CSR landscape, toe the line of humility and validity.
3. Follow the numbers
Facts are everywhere, and customers aren’t afraid to call out brands whose claims aren’t supported by hard metrics. Let facts guide the messaging of your CSR.
Customers are eager to support brands that contribute to the social good. Companies that commit to a cause tend to gain financially as well as in terms of company culture and customer advocacy. But those benefits only come if customers can see that something is working.
If you want to make a claim about your CSR, put metrics in place so your messaging is more steak than sizzle. Include unique numbers that show your work’s scope and help contribute toward the completion of a goal. If you want to help lower overall water use, record how much is saved during production; if the goal is to decrease fossil fuel use, shoot for that.
Record these metrics and weave them into your messaging. It’s proof that what you’re doing works and is not just bragging.
4. Find a friend nearby
Good friends keep you in check. They raise red flags when you put a questionable claim or decision on the table, and they do what’s necessary to rein you back in. CSRs that don’t want to go too far out on a limb with claims would be wise to partner with companies nearby that will keep them honest.
For instance, Little Leaf Farms, America’s largest agricultural baby leaf lettuce distributor, joined forces with Bull Run and the Worcester Regional Food Hub. The union provided each spot with reliable produce sources, which helped provide transparency during the pandemic. This collaboration keeps each brand accountable to its customers to put clean and properly sourced products on the table.
A local partner can pop in and oversee an initiative’s movement to align with the current messaging. Regularly check in with this brand to ensure each side is holding up its end and that messaging isn’t getting conflated.
5. Work with what you’ve got
The current health crisis has helped put the resources of many companies in perspective. Resources will be at a premium no matter what, so tailor your social initiative messaging around goals that align with whatever resources you have.
This mindset inspired Capital Good Fund to use its resources to provide relief to more than 300 families affected by the current crisis; it’s also why Fidelity Bank handed out upward of 450 PPP loans totaling over $53 million. Each company’s ability to do good was informed by what it had on hand.
While you definitely want to give attention to your CSR goals, those objectives need to be within reason. Evaluate your resources continuously, mirroring your messaging based on that. That way, progress can still occur without promising the world, well, the world.
Promote your CSR initiative. After all, you need to get it on people’s radar. But be mindful of your tone. Aim for a measured tone that accounts for attainable metrics, capabilities and resources — that way, everyone gets what they expected.