Let audiences know what you stand for with effective CSR campaigns

Three lessons from brands in the Reputation Institute’s CSR Survey

Last month, the Reputation Institute released its top ten brands for corporate social responsibility (CSR). And whether you’ve launched a social responsibility campaign or not, you should know about their importance. Of consumers willing to pay more for a product, more than 50 percent are influenced by key sustainability factors, such as a company being known for its commitment to social value. And while many look to millennials as the leading cause of this increased demand for corporate social responsibility — after all, 70 percent of millennials expect brands to give back to society — this desire for socially conscious companies spans all generational cohorts.

In short, demonstrating a commitment to social good has become a basic cost of entry for companies of any size or industry.

But demand for a CSR initiative is not just a desire to see more social good in the world. Demand for a CSR initiative is your audiences wanting to know what your brand stands for, authentically.

This isn’t anything new. We’ve always wanted to know that the new restaurant down the street is contributing to our neighborhood: keeping the noise down at night, cleaning up the patio so it isn’t an eyesore, or greeting us in a friendly way when we walk in. The difference now is that our companies are no longer just down the street, they’re on every street. The neighborhoods they inhabit are global in scale. In an age of globalization, proving to customers that you care about their community is the challenge.

If you’re about to send that CSR brief to your boss, though, hold off a moment. Ensuring your campaign is truly authentic is no small feat. Three lessons from brands consistently within the top five brands in the Reputation Institute’s survey may help shed some light on what makes a corporate social responsibility campaign an authentic extension of your brand and what you stand for.

Choose the right effort: Listen to the communities you’re working in.

Your CSR efforts don’t have to effect change on a global or even national scale. BMW’s campaign in the United States focuses on communities in South Carolina, where it opened its first American production factory. While it may not have a big impact on a national scale, the work it does with dozens of local and statewide organizations in South Carolina garners attention, and goodwill, from the community and labels BMW as a brand that cares about the people it works with at a local level.

Measure your impact: focus on the human story.

The story behind a brand’s initiatives are key in building an authentic, human connection with consumers. So if your company isn’t big enough to have numbers as outstanding as BMW, don’t worry. The quality of your impact, the human story behind it, is just as important. Disney always has a story that tugs at your heartstrings. From supporting young changemakers to empowering girls to lead, all of Disney’s initiatives feel like a natural extension of their mission: To strengthen communities by providing hope, happiness, and comfort to the kids and families who need it most. For a major company dedicated to children’s entertainment, providing for kids in other ways is sure to inspire a human connection.

Get the word out: let others weigh in.

All too often, communicating the success of a campaign can come across as boastful or self-promoting. But check out Project Loon — the We Solve for X (formerly Google X) campaign to expand internet access to other countries. You won’t find social media handles dedicated to talking about the project. Instead, you’ll find a number of news outlets vouching for the ingenuity and effectiveness of the project. Granted, Google’s brand is extremely well-known—which helps it get that kind of media pick-up—but the broader lesson still holds true. The best way to get word out without falling into the trap of bragging is to ask a third-party to weigh in and show support for your work.


Audience research and campaign planning are just some of the many things we think about for clients at Atlantic Media Strategies. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Digital Trends Index, and get in touch with us on Twitter.