Defining your brand purpose through corporate social responsibility

What does your company stand for?

Savvy marketers have been asking brands this question for years. However, the need for a good answer became urgent in 2020 as we watched from quarantine while the world rapidly transformed itself.

Another question to ask: What is brand purpose? Brand purpose graduated from a buzzword describing a hazy, feel-good concept to an urgent need to justify your company’s role in helping to make the world a better place.

And we’re not talking about the tired platitudes and lip service that brands have applied to these efforts in the past. We’re talking about actionable strategies that show specifically where and how companies are making a difference beyond the products and services they sell. Customers don’t simply want to know that your company believes Black Lives Matter, they want to know what your company is doing to live it.

So, what is corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility, or corporate citizenship, is the catch-all phrase for any of those initiatives that prove a company is working in the best interest of its employees, customers, communities or the world.

But let’s not kid ourselves. While being socially responsible is the right thing for companies to do, it isn’t simply altruism that is motivating them. Market forces are at work.

Purpose — your brand’s core reason for being — now is an important differentiator. Consumers reward brands for having a purpose above and beyond making a profit. And they punish those that don’t.

According to a Contently study, 74% of consumers are more likely to buy a company’s products after they read something about the brand having a positive impact on the world. On the flip side, a survey from YouGov reports that half of Americans have boycotted a business at some point in their lives.

Customers have discovered that the most effective way to drive corporate behavior is by targeting the bottom line. They are no longer making purchase decisions based just on product selection or price (two factors that have become less of a differentiator between competitors). Instead, they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does, what it stands for and how it makes them feel.

They want to know about your company’s culture, how you treat your employees and your impact on the environment. They want to know if you have a diverse workforce and how you create an inclusive culture. They evaluate the causes and politicians you support. They look to see whether you’ve taken a stand on a recent issue or remained silent. They want to know if you’re actively working to make the world a better place. All of these factors have been cited as reasons people buy from a certain company over others.

The benefits are real. In addition to helping make the world a better place, purpose-driven companies achieve higher performance, have higher market share gains and grow faster than competitors. They also report higher workforce and customer satisfaction, which leads to increased loyalty.

What is your corporate social responsibility strategy?

Is it too late for your company to take a stand? It’s never too late to make a difference. Here are a few steps to consider as you set out to position your brand for the future:

• If you haven’t already, define your purpose. What are the reasons your company exists beyond making a profit? What do your customers, employees and partners think your brand’s purpose is? Use these inputs as a starting point, then bring it to your leadership and employee audiences.

• Next, identify the issues that are most relevant for your brand, customers and employees. Where can your company make an impact and credibly take a stand? Don’t attempt to solve every issue. Choose the issues where your company’s impact can be greatest.

• Then it’s important to take action. Don’t simply commit the first two items to paper and call it good. It’s vital now to show how you’re making a difference. Statements, pledges and commitments are all well and good, but they must be followed by action.

• Don’t forget to tell the world about what you’re doing. It’s not overly self-promotional if you’re doing something to make a difference. Promote your good deeds and the impact you’re making. Your employees and customers want to know.

• Most important, keep listening and learning. As we all know so well by now, the world changes fast. Keep a pulse of what’s important in the lives of your customers and employees. Be sure to refine and evolve your brand’s purpose accordingly.