How Can Brands Build a Culture of Responsibility?
By Sarah Ford on January 29, 2015
One thing holding CSR back is its persistent treatment as a program within the business enterprise, distinct from core business activity. At best, it is treated like a corporate service, such as IT, finance, legal and HR. But it is still far from being considered a fundamental part of a company’s culture and brand identity. Yet only when CSR uptake makes the transition from being a feel-good or risk management add-on to being an integral part of a company’s purpose, will it be seen as contributing to a company’s ability to create value.
Linking CSR to brand identity is not just about enhancing stakeholder engagement and employee motivation. Instead, it is equal parts internal and external, leveraging the branches of communication, such as marketing and lobbying, which companies have mastered in their efforts to build demand and influence the regulatory environment. This is a communications challenge, but make no mistake: it is not about cause marketing or using a positive spin to score political points. This is about CSR advocates adopting the communications practices already well established within organizations to build a culture of responsibility within and around the brand that strengthens its ability to create value.
It also recognizes the central role of demand building in today’s business culture. While the emphasis of CSR communications to date has been on reporting and demonstrating impact, that only speaks to a narrow set of stakeholders with a proactive interest in social responsibility. It may be reassuring to workers that their integration of CSR practices has not been a wasted effort. It may be reassuring to customers that they need not feel guilty about their purchasing. And, in the best cases, it may be reassuring to shareholders that it has not eroded profitability. But in all of these instances, the interest in CSR is secondary, and reporting fails to unite employees, customers and shareholders in a shared sense of citizenship and purpose. Bottom line: it isn’t sexy.