How real-world crises reveal brand strength


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and brand strategy should be fundamentally intertwined. A company’s approach to CSR, sometimes called “corporate citizenship,” can differentiate it from competitors, lend credence to its purported brand promise, and strengthen the brand’s relevance and emotional connection with customers. But making sure CSR activities are “on brand” doesn’t only benefit the brand. When organizations align these initiatives with a well-defined brand promise, they can also give back more effectively.

In the aftermath of the tragic 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, many brands reacted quickly with donations of money, service, and other forms of assistance. They should all be applauded for their efforts, but the manner in which they chose to help differs importantly from brand to brand — those with a deeper understanding of what they stand for were able to harness that knowledge and optimize their contributions.

  • Google, for example, whose mission is “to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” immediately set up a Crisis Response site, which included a Person Finder, maps, and useful links.
  • Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing retailer, donated $8.6 million worth of heat-retaining clothes to help keep survivors warm. (Another $17 million was donated in cash to the Japanese Red Cross Society, $12 million coming directly from the CEO.)
  • Apple created a special page on the iTunes Store allowing simple, click-to-donate functionality through users’ iTunes accounts.

It’s easy to be cynical about “faceless corporations” claiming to care. Inevitably, some people will see Apple’s decision, for example, as a ploy to get more people onto the iTunes Store. Other approaches, such as Bing’s hastily abandoned dollar-per-retweet campaign, really do seem like shameless exploitation. But when organizations with well-defined brands put their core competencies to work for the public good — like GE engineers advising on nuclear reactors or American telecom companies offering free calls to and from Japan — it’s hard to argue with the results. Doubts about motives and sincerity become secondary to an unavoidable fact: This is expert help, when it’s needed most. And in an era when brands are (indeed, should be) judged by their actions more than their advertising claims, what more can we ask for?


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