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CSR In Marketing: Its Role, Benefits & Pitfalls

Jul 14, 2021 | by Priyam Chawla

Socially responsible marketing

In some of our previous blogs, we outlined the significance of adopting a robust and coherent CSR strategy to align an organization’s purpose and values with its social, environmental initiatives while also maximizing business results.

While the motivation to have an impactful CSR/sustainability initiative should not be marketing, it can and does have a positive impact on the overall brand equity. 

In this blog, we shall touch upon how a company’s CSR initiatives and marketing efforts may co-exist. 

The benefits: Why integrate CSR in marketing strategy? 

“Marketing social and environmental impact initiatives is the predominant strategy used to reach consumers,” ‘The sustainability Imperative’ – a 2015 Nielsen report. 

Besides reaching customers, there are many other purposes that a pact between a company’s marketing effort and CSR activities may serve. Take a look at the following: 

Aligning with stakeholders’ expectations  

The alliance offers a common ground where the marketing team steps in to offer its research on the stakeholders’ background, expectations, and how best can the company’s mission and values be aligned to form a well-rounded CSR campaign.   

Communication with the target audience 

Next up is effective communication. Providing a sustainable solution or service is not enough if the initiative, its key features, and the goals are not clearly communicated with the target audience.  

“Marketers need to connect messaging with the causes that matter most to consumers and that also align with their brand,” states the Nielsen report. 

Attract, engage new customers

In the process, the exercise may prove beneficial in attracting new customers, stakeholders, employees and may even prepare the ground for new partnerships. 

“Marketing good deeds are just as important as offering a sustainable product and is key to attracting and retaining consumers,” the Nielsen report.  

Addressing queries, defusing doubts

A well-marketed CSR campaign may automatically be able to defuse anxiety, doubts and answer queries around a company’s motto and activities. Being out there, in the open, gives an impression to various stakeholders that the organization means serious business and is ready to interact, engage, inform and be transparent about undertakings. 

Upping brand equity, loyalty

It is true in terms of CSR campaign as it would be for any marketing initiative – if done right, backed by integrity and innovation – a well-marketed, honest campaign can go a long way in upping brand image and creating long-standing customer loyalty.   

A solid marketing strategy can bridge the gap between CSR and a firm’s brand equity. An effective CSR will ensure that everybody benefits from the organization’s operations, therefore, it must extend beyond campaigns and integrate with a full-bodied marketing strategy.

CSR stories, therefore, must demand more space in marketing campaigns and should not be limited to a couple of PR initiatives a year. However, it must be kept in mind that marketing shouldn’t be the main driving force behind a brand’s CSR efforts. 

Besides, the alliance of CSR with marketing efforts does not come entirely free from pitfalls. 

A 2014 study, ‘Corporate social responsibility as a marketing strategy for enhanced performance in the Nigerian banking industry’ found that “there exist some inherent pitfalls in CSR regarding marketing operations of corporate organizations, which tend to negate the interest of consumers”.

Deceptive advertising and promotion emerge as common perils of merging CSR with a company’s marketing strategy. 

An organization may run the risk of harming its brand image and prospects if its CSR campaign is treated as a mere chest-beating tool, not amply supported by facts. Remember, businesses are now dealing with Millennials & Gen-Z customers who are socially aware & more skeptical than the previous generations. 

Therefore, it is imperative for organizations to “endeavor to apply best practices of CSR in their marketing activities to protect the interest of consumers and the society,” the study, conducted by the School of Management Sciences, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Lagos, Nigeria, concluded. 

Winning trust, establishing credibility 

So, how is it that an organization can establish credibility and win over skeptical customers and stakeholders? One of the best, and probably the easiest, ways of doing so is by measuring the outcomes and communicating the evidence of impact created with the stakeholders. Many CSR reports often find that, in the end, a company’s declared initiatives did not match with its goals. 

Evidence is important, therefore, measuring outcomes becomes an integral exercise. It is the only way a firm can prove that its CSR effort is not just a plain marketing gimmick, rather it stands for its mission of creating shared value for society and its business. 

‘Practice what you preach’ and ‘make what you market’, therefore, become the hallmark of an effective CSR campaign when merged with marketing.

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