Crowded marketplaces inspire many businesses to chase after the “secret sauce” that will help them establish credibility as a leader in their respective fields. The formula, of course, will vary from industry to industry―cutting-edge innovation and insightful thought leadership are often key markers of a reputation for corporate leadership. But now, more than ever, becoming an industry leader involves investing in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
Consumers are willing to loosen their purse strings when it comes to purchase decisions that support socially responsible companies. Neilson data reveals that 55 percent of global consumers are willing to pay a premium for products or services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Investors, too, are seeking out companies committed to social good. According to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, socially responsible investment grew a staggering 929 percent from 1995 to 2014.
As more evidence points to CSR as a “must do” to foster successful corporate citizenship, new initiatives are cropping up among companies both small and large. To stand out among the countless businesses now implementing social good initiatives and leverage investments to differentiate your brand, however, CSR efforts must have clear objectives and measurable outcomes that resonate with target audiences.
What are the key components of an effective CSR investment?
- Be responsible, inside and out: A balanced and impactful corporate responsibility initiative will include both internal and external components. Your company’s approach to social consciousness should inform how the two pieces complement one another. For instance, a bank focused on economic development might combine an external investment in community development lending with a targeted hiring program to boost workforce diversity internally.
- Emphasize the company purpose: While investment in corporate responsibility is first and foremost a catalyst for social good, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t tie back to the business’s core capabilities. The key is to identify issues that matter to stakeholders and have the potential to positively impact the company’s long-term success. For example, a corporate recruiting company might choose to invest in secondary education―a social initiative with clear ties to talent development.
- Establish your credibility: Messaging is important, but the spokesperson delivering that message can significantly influence receptiveness among key audiences and, ultimately, the impact of your investment and shifts in your business’ reputation. Beyond selecting an inspiring spokesperson, building relationships and/or partnering with influential nonprofits or experts in the field are good ways to demonstrate credibility.
- Generate external buzz: Once an initiative is underway, companies should focus on establishing a reputation as a leader by externally marketing the company’s efforts. Build a base of content by identifying spokespeople and developing an owned platform for thought leadership and other branded content that showcases the firm’s investment in CSR and its impact. Next, the trick is finding a news or current events “hook” that will weave the company’s investment into external dialogue around a particular social issue. This will help the business engage with media and key stakeholders and, in turn, garner valuable external publicity―helping to further bolster the CSR program’s prominence among its target audience.
CSR is already influencing how customers and investors select businesses to support, as well as how employees choose where to work. Following a strategic path to optimized and impactful CSR can help companies promote powerful social outcomes, maximize return on investment and, most importantly, establish a reputation for leadership in responsible business.
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