Modern consumers are tired of being bombarded with sales pitches and feeling like products are being forced upon them. Rather than building a relationship with brands based on how good their products are, consumers want to feel a genuine connection to the brands and companies that they are buying from, working for, or working with.

When a consumer spends money today, they want to feel like their money is going towards a business with responsible practices, a brand that they trust to treat their customers, employees and the environment well. Today, brands are getting better and better at demonstrating corporate social responsibility and sustainability efforts that go beyond just buying recycled paper, but addresses issues that help directly connect with employees, consumers and their communities. These efforts include investment in philanthropy, better benefits and programs for their employees, and sustainability practices that build trust between brand and consumer when used throughout marketing and PR efforts. Our work at McGrath/Power is greatly focused on transparent communications to earn trust, which is increasingly crucial to win over today’s consumers, particularly millennials. In this post, we will explore a few brands that are communicating corporate social responsibility (CSR) work well and exactly why every brand should be incorporating CSR efforts throughout their business model.

Prioritizing Employees and Workers Worldwide

We hear the words “Corporate Social Responsibility,” or CSR a lot these days, but only a few companies come to mind when we think of those that truly give back to support underserved communities, decrease their impact on the environment and promote social welfare. As an outdoors enthusiast, Patagonia comes to mind as a prime example of a company that has embraced highly progressive CSR efforts, which have added greatly to their brand value. At Patagonia, one of Fortune’s “Top 100 Companies to work for” for the last 17 years, mothers have a 100% retention rate after they give birth. Onsite childcare, paid maternity leave and paid childcare when traveling show Patagonia’s commitment to their employees. Their transparency across the supply chain, and efforts to give a living wage to workers around the globe, bring an admirable human quality to what could have been just another outdoor clothing company. The spirit of the company is reflected through their reduction of waste, recycling programs (even for used clothes) and responsible use of resources. By marketing these programs and efforts, Patagonia has endeared itself to consumers, making them more likely to buy from them than cheaper alternatives in order to support the ethical missions that Patagonia represents.

Making Strides in Math and Science

One of our clients is also making strides in CSR. Mellanox, a leading supplier of end-to-end interconnect solutions for data center servers and storage systems, is committed to helping support engineers and fostering youth in pursuing math and science both in the U.S. and in Israel. As part of this effort, they invest in the Future Scientists program: An educational program which aims to cultivate a new generation of future Israeli inventors, scientists and engineers. The program works in combination with schools, industry and research institutions to create the optimal learning conditions for Israel’s most motivated high schoolers, with the goal of realizing their creative potential in science and technology and the vision to create a vital stream of talent for Israel’s knowledge-based industries.

Ford – Helping Fight Homelessness

Another good example of corporate philanthropy is Ford. Ford made a dramatic effort to revamp their image in the wake of a major decline in the American automotive industry. They pushed out a companywide commitment to social issues, and took on the cause of homelessness, partnering with Invisible People TV to bring awareness to the stories of homeless individuals in America and giving away a Ford Flex. Social media was widely used during this campaign and included a Ford-promoted social site to increase awareness, keeping the focus on the cause of homeless, but as a result bringing positive attention to Ford. This campaign was extremely successful, earning accolades and additional funding for the cause including a $50,000 grand from the SXSW Pepsi Refresh Challenge.

How it All Comes Together

CSR, when done right, gives a human quality to a company, establishing rewarding connections with employees, partners and customers. This provides a more uplifting work environment for employees and also makes consumers feel positive about buying products from your company.  This connection to both employees and consumers is now essential to winning, and keeping the loyalty of millennials. CSR is a very necessary element of any business and should be widely communicated through their marketing and PR efforts.

Looking to Get Started with CSR?

Here are a few great places to start:

  • Participate in Philanthropy – This should be a cause that aligns well with your brand and has a reputation for responsible use of funds.
  • Offer Volunteer Time – Offering one to two days of paid volunteer time is a great way to encourage your employees to participate in philanthropy, through organizations that they are passionate about.
  • Invest in your Employees – Taking a second look at employee benefits can make it easier to attract employees and send a message to consumers that you value your workforce. From increased sick leave to offering educational stipends, there are a lot of small efforts that can really impact employee satisfaction.
  • Institute Sustainability Practices in the Office – This can be as simple as replacing disposable products with reusable ones, or as extensive as reevaluating your entire supply chain to reflect responsible/sustainable efforts.

When planning marketing/PR support for new CSR program (or an existing one), care must be given to highlight the causes themselves over the company’s involvement in them in PR and marketing efforts. A connection that is made naturally by consumers and media is more genuine than when marketing efforts force the connection. To build a brand, you need more than just products and flashy marketing. CSR efforts show the heart behind a brand, and for many consumers, this is worth paying for.