Social responsibility as marketing muscle

Brands that promote the spirit of giving or “share the harvest” of their success with their clients or the general public may be able to maintain more of a following than their tighter-fisted competitors who merely leverage sponsorships to build their brand awareness.

Your brand’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) helps build brand awareness by associating the brand with philanthropic ideals while increasing product exposure at the same time. Two-thirds of consumers say they are more likely to buy products and services from a company if they know it supports good causes.

CSR programs can increase productivity up to 13% and may reduce employee turnover rate by up to 50%. CSR efforts range from making charitable donations to causes that match your brand to changing your business structure in an environmentally friendly way.

So how do you decide how to engage in a relevant socially responsible activity? Choosing one close to home is a good strategy, both literally and figuratively. A commitment that is imbedded in your area provides your brand with publicity, and a social cause that is closely related to your brand entices similar-minded customers.

Avoid supporting a trendy or newsworthy cause to try and gain immediate attention (i.e. “cause washing”). Instead, focus your CSR on efforts that truly connect to your brand and your stakeholders.

Alternatively, simply asking employees one-on-one or holding company-wide surveys to discover what charities and causes they believe are important is an effortless way to match your CSR with your brand and the employees it represents.

IBM took this approach with its Corporate Service Corps program, which enabled its employees to use their professional skills in developing countries. This program not only attracted more talented employees and increased retention but, since it began in 2008, returned $600 million on a $200 million investment.

Building brand awareness is no longer just about paying enormous fees for prime-time airing of your latest commercial detailing how socially responsible you are. It is about a subtle yet authentic charitable contribution to a cause or agency that melds completely with your brand.

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