Historically, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has put the emphasis on how businesses are doing good. It’s become an increasingly varied checklist of “things we’ve done right”. Today though, socially aware audiences want to do business with brands that are good. They want brands to assume real responsibility. And to share that story.
And that in turn means your reputation depends less on your ability to simply highlight good works done in isolation and much more on your ability to show that you are inherently principled in your dealings and that you behave consistently across your organisation in ways that align with your social and commercial reputation.
The brand responsibility actions you take are competitive opportunities to distinguish your company from others.
Your responsible actions help define and demonstrate your ‘moral compass’ – and position your brand as transparent, consistent, reliable and principled. People like good brands. They trust them. They believe them. They see value in them. They see them as the counter to unethical behaviours. Subconciously, they look for opportunities to favour them. For those reasons, responsible brands carry lower “social risk”. They are less likely to draw adverse reaction, less likely to make the news for all the wrong reasons, much less likely to have their actions and motivations questioned.
You also have a brand responsibility to share your story
But – and it’s a very important but – your social actions will only work to reinforce your standing as a brand that is good to do business with if they are communicated in ways that directly link how you act with what customers can expect. Tell that story. Do it justice. Consumers love the idea of dealing with responsible brands but many still can’t define what a responsible brand is. Rather than treating your brand responsibility actions as a list of initiatives, I suggest you present what you are doing as intrinsic social proof for why you deserve preference; for why you’ve earned the status of “a good brand” amongst the people who buy from you.
Take a food company with a sincere commitment to deep traceability in its supply chain. The temptation is to report on where ingredients were sourced and perhaps to elaborate on what standards were met. While such a description explains how the company approaches sustainability, it does not do full justice to its actions as a responsible brand. The real opportunity lies in explaining why the business went looking for such alternative sourcing in the first place and how that commitment aligns with their wider motivations to do the responsible thing. In other words, if you are that food company, don’t just tell your customers that you are ethical. Tell them why your ethical stance is unique, how that aligns with the real actions that need to be taken, and what that says about your real sense of brand responsibility, more broadly.
It’s not about what you do, it’s about the change you make
1. Make traceability, diversity and sustainability an intrinsic expression of your DNA, not just something you do to fit in alongside everyone else. Or something you mention in passing to look like a good corporate citizen.
2. Tell your brand responsibility story with pride by answering this question, asked from the point of view of your customers: “When we bought from you – what changed in the world, how did you make that happen, why does that matter to me, and why will buying from you ensure things continue to improve?”
Your responses, told well, can certainly form part of the proof that you are better, in every sense, than your competitors.
Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title Brands Face A New Era Of Responsibility.