As communities around the world gear up for the shopping frenzy associated with the season of giving and receiving, consumers are turning to brands for more than just the best source for the perfect holiday gift: consumers are also searching for brands that mirror their commitment to contributing to the greater good. As a result, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a means of accelerating social and environmental progress has become a core business strategy central to many successful brands across a spectrum of industries.
The idea of holding brands accountable to higher standards is emerging as an increasingly universal priority for consumers across the globe. According to the September‒October 2017 Harvard Business Review, “Consumers increasingly expect brands to have not just functional benefits, but a social purpose.” A 2014 international survey by Cohn & Wolfe asked consumers what they valued most in brands, and found that 87% of global consumers consider it important for brands to “act with integrity at all times,” ranking authenticity above innovation (72%) and product uniqueness (71%).
As sustainability, better business practices, and CSR become a part of consumers’ everyday vernacular, brands are scaling up their efforts to prioritize operating responsibly. Today, a brand is asked to be more than just a logo or its intellectual property; a brand must define itself as an organization, and CSR initiatives have become the heart and soul of this definition. CSR is such a hot topic that the International Trademark Association (INTA)—a global organization of more than 7,000 trademark owners and professionals from more than 190 countries—is devoting a two-day conference in Berlin on November 30‒December 1 to the exploration of CSR and its impact for brands and consumers.
When it comes to integrating sustainable business practices with brand values, TOMS Shoes, Inc. exemplifies a company that is improving lives through business. The TOMS business model addresses needs that advance health, education, and economic opportunity for children and their communities around the world. Its initiative began with this promise: for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair of shoes would be given to a child in need. Today, the program has expanded beyond shoe provision so consumers have helped make an impact in other areas as well. For example, as a result of shoe purchases, 2 million children have not experienced hookworm and access to maternal health services has increased by 42%.
While the benefits are undeniable, CSR can also present a host of challenges that brands will need to overcome to ensure long-term and sustainable integration into a brand’s identity. Specifically, at a fiscal level, brands will need to demonstrate that CSR efforts can be profitable. Brands will also need to ensure mechanisms are in place to maintain transparency and uphold accountability. On a related note, accurately communicating impact while ensuring transparency will be critical on rapidly evolving communications platforms like social media. Finally, the long-term success of CSR will hinge on overcoming myths and misperceptions that these efforts are just marketing buzzwords and a tool designed for turning heads and creating hype.
Despite these challenges, this is just the beginning for CSR as more brands recognize that it is possible to “do good and do well”—building a profitable business while simultaneously committing to reducing the negative footprint of doing business. The mutual benefits of CSR for both brands and consumers are vast. Efforts to advance social and environmental well-being can enhance a brand’s value, strengthen consumer trust, and build brand loyalty. As consumer-driven demand for CSR continues to grow, we can expect to see an increasing number of brands incorporating these principles into their mission. As the “do good, feel good” effect crescendos for consumers during and even beyond the holiday season, how rewarding it is to see brands of all sizes following suit and investing more into achieving social good.
About Jessica Murray
Jessica Murray is Director of Intellectual Property and Corporate Social Responsibility at TOMS Shoes, Inc., USA, which is a member of the International Trademark Association (INTA).