Community Outreach: How to Integrate CSR with Marketing

CSR and marketing
Community Outreach: How to Integrate CSR with Marketing

On the 5th of August, 2018, a 7.0 earthquake hit the island of Lombok, Indonesia. The island, together with the smaller 3 Gili archipelago located just off the northwest coast, is a popular tourist spot. The majority of structures in the island were damaged or outright destroyed and more than 350,000 people were displaced as a result with casualties in the 400s. In response, the local McDonald’s franchise distributed more than 5,000 food packages to the displaced.

The cynic in you would no doubt dismiss this as a PR stunt but for those on the receiving end, it doesn’t matter what McDonald’s intentions are as long as they can eat. This is what is commonly called as corporate social responsibility, or CSR for short, in which companies essentially performs act of contribution to society. Recent trends have blended this program with content marketing strategies, giving birth to the concept of ethical marketing.

CSR and their role in businesses

One of biggest issues facing our society right now is the ever growing wealth gap. In 2017, the wealthiest 1% of the global population holds 50% of the world’s wealth . It’s not that things were better in the past mind you, in 2001, the same group owns 45% of the world’s wealth but with the internet enabling instant sharing of everything, this wealth gap has gotten even more pronounced.

This wealth gap, on top of other social issues currently facing the world right now, such as the immigration problem and various human rights violations, has led to general public distrust of anything they deemed as elitist or corporate. You can see this being represented in the rise of populist movements across the world. As a response, CSR programs, which used to be an afterthought for corporations have taken more prominence as corporations try to prove that they do stand for something more than just profits.

CSR itself doesn’t have any set definition but generally that term is used for a concept in which companies integrate social or environmental concerns into their business operations. Practically speaking, it can be simple charity acts like the McDonald’s example at the beginning or it can be something internal and more comprehensive, like Levi’s Worker Well-being initiative that aims to address concern about sweatshop labor practices common to the fashion industry.

Integrating CSR with marketing

There are two things the internet loves, cat videos and feel-good stories. The numerous faith-in-humanity-restored memes you can find across the internet is a proof of that. The concept of ethical marketing, in which companies incorporate ethical considerations inside their product and marketing is an embodiment of this policy. Instead of continually touting how good your products are, take time to inform potential customers just how much effort you’re putting in making the world a better place.

The integration of CSR with marketing has more to do about branding than promotion. In layman’s terms, CSR is essentially about establishing an identity for your company instead of convincing people to buy your products and/or services. As such, it might not have a noticeable immediate impact for your bottom line since it’s more of a long-term strategy. But when they do, the impact can be more instrumental than a simple marketing campaign.

One issue in integrating CSR with marketing is that it tends to feel disingenuous, nothing more than a publicity stunt. Generally, this tends to happen due to two things, because it is a publicity stunt or because of overexposure. The key here is to integrate CSR with marketing, not to let marketing take over CSR, there’s a subtle but distinct difference between the two.

Instead of planning your CSR initiative for marketing purposes from the ground up, focus on what you’re trying to achieve with your CSR initiative in the first place. Keep your marketing team involved in the process so they could come up with how best to market the initiative but don’t let them be in charge of planning. CSR and ethical marketing is about practicing what you preach and it should be handled by someone from your company who truly believes in what you’re trying to do.

Thanks to growth of social media, platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are the best channels to use when it comes to CSR and marketing. Other than their massive reach, social media channels allows you to adopt an informal tone with your marketing, which could go a long way in making your community outreach feels genuine.

Closing thoughts

The integration of CSR with marketing is a delicate balancing act. You want people to know you’re trying to do good things but at the same time, you don’t want to give them the impression that you’re doing that just for the publicity. One way of achieving this is by simply allowing marketing to take a backseat, but not an afterthought, and put your focus on the cause. The key in CSR is to show the public a facet of your company that might not be usually visible and that the best approach is the natural one.