With the current COVID-19 crisis still dominating our daily lives and the news agenda, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the situation and instead look for a sense of normality for your day-to day.
Working in PR and social media, I see how brands are trying to contribute to this; and since the crisis began, it’s been incredibly refreshing to see how brands have responded. I have no doubt that the work coming from marketing and communications teams now will establish reputations for years to come.
However, the role that brands play in our communities was evolving long before the pandemic hit, with corporate social responsibility (CSR) no longer being a ‘nice to have’, but an expectation. CSR is not only the right thing to do, it is increasingly becoming a powerful brand building tool.
Many businesses have seen that in the long term, CSR can not only enhance reputations but also have a positive impact on customer retention, employee engagement and employer brand. All of which will inevitably support the future success of a business.
In fact, the new generation of consumers have proven to show more loyalty to purpose-driven companies and in today’s cut-throat market, this can give businesses a competitive advantage. Research by the Corporate Board/EY Global Leadership Forecast suggested that purposeful companies outperform the stock market by 42%, proving that if you keep purpose at the forefront of your business strategy, profit will likely follow.
On the other hand, it is important to consider that there is a fine line between communicating brand values and merely exploiting a situation – CSR can’t just be used as a quick fix.
When thinking about a social responsibility strategy, authenticity is key.
We’ve experienced first-hand the power that an authentic CSR campaign can have, with many of the businesses we work alongside introducing innovative ways to help not only their employees and customers, but also those who are truly in-need within their communities.
A recent report published by the Edelman Trust Barometer stated that 71 per cent of respondents agreed that if they perceive a brand to be putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.
A business’ success hinges on its ability to adapt its marketing strategy and focus on making valuable contributions and not just selling. If products or services can help during difficult times like these, brands shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it for fear of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’. If the product or service authentically adds value or is useful to customers, then now is the time to create a strategy to talk about it.
The same report highlighted that during this time people want brands to do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and suppliers, with 90 per cent of respondents in agreement.
It’s time for businesses to prove that they put people before profits – just look at what happened to Sports Direct.
In the days following the government’s enforced lockdown, Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley announced that he would not be closing any Sports Direct branches as he felt he was offering an essential service.
It was also reported that the sports retailer increased the price of products that were in demand by up to 50% and that staff were told they would be immediately fired for self-isolating.
This approach of course created a huge amount of public backlash and Ashley was forced to close all stores and issue a public apology. Despite then announcing that they would be helping the NHS by delivering essential supplies, it appeared to be too little, too late, with YouGov reporting that the firm’s public perception took a serious hit.