Making CSR relevant and reliable

For close to 30 years, nonprofits have been the beneficiary of billions of dollars from brands across the globe looking to align themselves with socially responsible initiatives and propel stakeholder consideration and support.

For close to 30 years, nonprofits have been the beneficiary of billions of dollars from brands across the globe looking to align themselves with socially responsible initiatives and propel stakeholder consideration and support. Likewise, consumers have indicated their support for doing good with their wallets and corporations have enjoyed increases in sales. In short, everyone has been a winner.

But the tide is turning: watchdog groups, citizen journalists, and now everyday consumers are demanding a new level of transparency and authenticity between a company and the causes it supports. This creates a problem that we as PR professionals have a responsibility to address. Without an obvious connection between a cause and a brand, today's consumer becomes skeptical and assumes the only reason why the partnership exists is to make more money, not change the world. Social media allows a single naysayer to enlist others to ignite a firestorm of negative visibility.

More than ever before, all of a company's actions must be seen as consistent with the aims of the CSR partner. In Emanate's recently released white paper, “Reliability in the Age of Transparency,” we interview several luminaries in the CSR space who outline the difference between a “one and done” cause marketing campaign and a long-term reliable partnership. The difference between the two comes down to a single distinction: relevance. 

When a partnership is genuinely relevant – think GE and energy conservationists – that connection between the two is obvious to any consumer who is interested in your product. When this relevance exists, it has a natural positive impact on the business itself – on its bottom line, employee morale, and the brand's overall reputation. Most importantly, relevance nets greater, more acute understanding of your brand among the most action-oriented segment of your target. The people who are most likely to endorse what you're doing are going to be the ones paying the closest attention, because the cause or the brand means something to them.

Here are a few things to think about as you look to establish relevant and reliable partnerships for your company's CSR efforts:

Reliable CSR programs are not the easiest thing to sell to a board or your CFO. Emphasize the CSR campaign's long-term impact to your bottom line and talk about the immediate impact your program has on brand reputation. Never before in our industry's history has reputation management had such a direct impact on a company's revenue. Highlighting this fact, with relevant anecdotes and the right numbers to back it up, may be all you need to gain stakeholder consensus.

Don't forget your biggest brand ambassadors: your employees. Educating and engaging them in your reliability efforts will generate internal excitement that can serve as a rallying cry for what the brand stands for and spur enthusiasm and commitment.

Keep in mind that you can't be relevant to everyone all the time. In fact, relevance marketing is the antithesis of awareness marketing. Being relevant is all about reaching the fewest, most relevant targets first – these consumers then carry your message up the funnel for you. Simply put – the degree to which your brand is relevant to a cause and your actions are reliable will determine the degree of success you'll see in your cause marketing and CSR efforts. At Emanate, we believe that relevance marketing and reliability are the keys to a successful CSR initiative and to communicating in today's transparent world. 

Kim Sample is CEO of Emanate.

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