CSR marketing: improve brand reputation and increase sales

Can CSR Marketing (Corporate Social Responsibility Marketing) activities influence our brand perception and increase the success of our business?

Nowadays, companies are increasingly seen as real players, not only in the economy but also in the social sphere. Companies, compared to the past, interact more and more with informed consumers who, before making their purchases, take an interest in the origin and characteristics of products and consider the reputation of the companies they buy from to be increasingly important. They are therefore required to pay more attention to all the actions they take and, at the same time, they are constantly looking for innovative aspects they can leverage to gain the competitive advantage that will allow them to survive and succeed in the market.

To be successful, a company must obtain, and above all maintain a competitive advantage such that current and potential consumers prefer its company over others. If you are interested in learning more about managing your company’s communication, follow our certification as a Digital Marketing Manager.

What companies are primarily interested in is building a strong and positive brand reputation that brings, first and foremost, economic benefits resulting from the premium price that consumers are willing to pay for the purchase of the products or services offered and keeps corporate management safe from scandal or controversy.

One of the areas in which companies seek to distinguish themselves from their competitors, given the ever-increasing attention of all corporate stakeholders to environmental, ethical, and social issues, is corporate social responsibility.

CSR Marketing (Corporate Social Responsibility Marketing): definition

The most quoted definition of CSR Marketing is the one contained in the European Commission’s Green Paper published in 2001 where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is defined as “the voluntary integration by companies of social and environmental concerns into their business operations and in their dealings with stakeholders”. Simply put, Corporate Social Responsibility is the impact that the actions of companies have on society.

Carroll, a well-known writer, and mathematician as well as a professor at the University of Georgia, USA, defined the so-called pyramid of corporate social responsibility in 1991. This pyramid consists of four levels of increasing importance.

pyramid corporate social responsibility

Source: researchgate.net

At the base of the pyramid are the economic responsibilities, since generating profit is certainly the primary objective of any company, as well as the prerequisite on which all other responsibilities are based. Immediately above are the legal responsibilities, which consist of absolute compliance with the legislation of the countries in which the company operates.

The next step is ethical responsibilities, i.e. when the company voluntarily commits to accept emerging societal needs and imposes ethical behavior on itself, which stakeholders expect.

Finally, at the top of the pyramid are philanthropic responsibilities, which are entirely discretionary and consist of responsibilities towards a society that goes beyond commercial, economic, and business matters, and involve donations, investments, and behaving as a ”good citizen”, thus having a desirable behavior for all corporate stakeholders.

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CSR Marketing: how it influences purchasing behavior

Corporate social responsibility marketing is the practice of combining a company’s social activities with its marketing campaigns. Instead of, for example, simply giving a cheque to a charity, the company could directly link the amount of that donation to sales after making fundraising the focus of its advertising. CSR marketing can benefit the company in more ways than one. It can improve the public perception of the company, increase sales and improve employee morale.

Consumers’ perception of a brand is no longer based solely on the quality of its products or services and the effectiveness of its advertising, but also on the company’s sense of responsibility and thus its interest and relationship with society.

There are several ways to demonstrate ethical behavior. The most common, perhaps, is to promote shared values, to make the company appear more human and closer to society in the eyes of the public. In addition, it is very common to attempt to stir consciences by emphasizing the responsibility that each individual has toward the world around him or her. Sometimes, on the other hand, companies decide to take a more decisive stance by supporting more specific causes, such as research against serious diseases, the fight against hunger and poverty, campaigns for international peace, environmental protection, and other similar issues.

Ultimately, engagement in social issues has a real impact on sales. According to a Better Business Journey survey, 88% of customers say they are more likely to buy from a company that supports and carries out activities that improve society.

The reason why CSR Marketing builds brand value is largely psychological. Brands that arouse positive feelings make customers feel better about themselves.

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Corporate social responsibility: online communication

The use of digital media in corporate communication of CSR marketing and environmental sustainability initiatives is growing. To give visibility to social responsibility policies, almost all companies now publish content, reports or certificates directly on the home page of their official websites.

csr social communication

Social responsibility is, therefore, an increasingly important aspect of corporate reputation, and communication of these activities is also growing on Facebook, Twitter, and other specially created social networks and blogs.

CSR Marketing strategies

While industries and companies used to rely mostly on donations, now most companies involved in social work are implementing measures to cut waste of paper, water, lighting and leftover food. This is followed by investments in energy saving, the introduction or expansion of separate waste collection, and investments in new technologies to contain pollution and improve waste disposal. However, there is no lack of investment in areas such as sport, solidarity, art, and culture.

The underlying objective of all these activities is to improve and strengthen the company’s reputation, which is useful for the company’s positioning and image and for attracting new customers. For this reason, the initiatives that are invested in must first and foremost be visible and it would also be good to involve employees in these initiatives to also improve the internal company environment.

Certainly, the strategies that seem most effective are those in which a company finds a way to link its core product directly to its socially responsible efforts. For example, the famous shoe and sunglasses manufacturer Toms started its ”one-for-one” campaign in 2007: for every pair of slip-ons or boots purchased, Toms donated a pair of shoes to a needy child and for every pair of glasses, it paid for an eye test for a poor person.

Different models of CSR marketing can be defined according to how it is integrated into the company’s global strategy:

  • informal CSR: commitment to social and environmental issues is not formalized;
  • current CSR: awareness raising due to stakeholder pressure;
  • systemic CSR: the company seeks to address social issues by critically analyzing and redesigning company products and activities and implementing corporate welfare initiatives;
  • innovative CSR: represents the phase of seeking competitive advantage to create shared value for both stakeholders and the company (on the economic side)

Among the world’s best practitioners are IBM, Unilever, Mars, Unicredit, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and Primark, Ferrero.

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Primark: CSR Marketing strategies and its suppliers

The fashion industry is very sensitive to environmental issues, mainly for two reasons: on the one hand because of the enormous use of resources in the production phase and, on the other hand, because of the tendency to relocate production to areas where labor costs are lower and, usually, working conditions are not the best. In particular, the chemical materials used to manufacture or color products have in the past caused considerable damage to the environment and people’s health, leading to consumer protests.

Primark, part of the Associated British Foods group, is an Irish-based clothing chain and an undisputed symbol of fast fashion and low-cost fashion. As an international retailer, it wants to share its commitment to the environment with its suppliers whose practices comply with applicable environmental standards, recognise its responsibility towards environmental issues, and work hard to ensure that its products are manufactured in an environmentally friendly way.

primark using csr marketing

Primark does not own the factories that manufacture its products but has chosen to take responsibility for the workers who work there, to customers and shareholders, to ensure that products are made under good working conditions. Primark has adopted a strict code of conduct that suppliers must observe.

Primark’s Supplier Code of Conduct is a mandatory requirement that all suppliers must observe to ensure that production takes place under good working conditions, that workers are treated appropriately and that they receive a fair wage. All plants are subject to strict inspections, by the Code, before orders are issued to suppliers.

For the workers who perform their work in these factories, it is a must to guarantee, in line with the principles of the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code, a series of internationally established rights. In addition, there are articles in the Code expressly dedicated to compliance with the law and environmental protection regulations.

The most frequent non-conformities found during audits fall into the category of working conditions. These can range from chemical labelling and storage of materials to lack machine guarding or fire safety, poor survival income and excessive working hours, including excessive overtime. The aim is to reduce their occurrence through increased attention and the implementation of appropriate management systems and safety measures.

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Corporate Social Responsibility of Ferrero

Ferrero, a world leader in the confectionery industry, has always operated in respect of social and environmental values, paying particular attention to food safety, and the local communities where its facilities and human resources are located. It pursues a CSR Marketing called ”Sharing Values to Create Value”. Being responsible does not only mean pursuing sustainable values, but also sharing them with stakeholders. In keeping with the utmost transparency, every year the company publishes social responsibility reports in which it describes the strategy pursued by the Group and the relevant initiatives developed worldwide.

ferrero csr marketing

The objectives that the company has set itself to achieve during the period 2013-2020 can be traced back to four macro areas: human rights, environmental rights, raw materials used, healthy lifestyle (a theme that is also very dear to social marketing, whose campaigns should not be confused with those of individual companies).

The Ferrero Foundation was founded in 1983. “Work, create, donate” are the guiding principles behind the Foundation’s activities, which are directed in three fields: social, cultural and commitment to young people. Social actions are aimed at creating jobs in emerging countries, fighting unemployment and adopting humanitarian initiatives aimed at the health and growth of children in underdeveloped areas; while in the cultural sphere, it develops and finances projects dealing with science, art, economic and social disciplines and issues scholarships.

The great prominence of CSR Marketing in the company can also be seen in the launch of a website entirely dedicated to corporate social responsibility: this makes it possible for the multinational to speak of innovative CSR, as the company is constantly striving for improvement at all stages of the value chain.

In 2011, the company started to adopt the Code of Business Conduct, which shares Ferrero’s principles and its high standards of excellence. It applies to business-to-business relations and is based on excellence in terms of product quality and safety, commitment to the protection of human rights, environmental sustainability and working conditions. Regarding environmental protection, it has developed an Environmental Management System in compliance with ISO 14001: 2015.

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CSR Marketing: the risks

The benefits of CSR marketing practices can certainly also be countered by negative aspects. When companies decide to communicate their social responsibility, they inevitably also expose themselves to criticism from consumers. Very common in public opinion is the accusation against certain companies of Greenwashing.

Greenwashing is considered to be a marketing practice characterized by displaying a corporate image in favor of environmental issues, to distract the consumer from possible product defects or, in the worst case, to divert public attention from the negative environmental effects of one’s activities.

To avoid possible criticism or skeptical behavior on the part of consumers, it can be useful to implement certifications, i.e. documents issued by independent and institutional bodies, that guarantee the veracity of CSR Marketing actions undertaken by companies. Among the most widely used in the corporate sector are environmental certifications. Social certifications are also important; in fact, companies strive to obtain sustainability guarantees linked to the social sphere, i.e. labor, gender equality, training, health and safety, and those linked to ethics and consumer rights. Last but not least, corporate certifications, which guarantee the use of CSR at all operational levels within the company, should not be underestimated.

Another aspect that, wrongly, could be considered negative is that investments in social responsibility actions are to be considered latent investments as CSR marketing is a long-term game. Companies tend to show financial losses in the first three years before the benefits start to be felt. But when the benefits become apparent, the impact can be decisive in terms of marketing, branding, and sales.

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