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A Marketing Perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility

Americans love to do business with companies whose activities and ethos reflect their values. This behavior is truer now than ever as younger generations have become targeted consumer groups. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) recognizes this preference. Its various forms include philanthropy, employee volunteering, socially responsible business practices, environmentally friendly practices, charitable donations, product and service offerings and community involvement. These practices ultimately shape how an organization is perceived by its employees, shareholders, community and customers.

In today’s age of widespread digital connectivity and social media, companies can be subject to increased scrutiny and visibility from the public. As a result, CSR serves as a means for companies to align their values with those of their prospects and customers, enhancing their brand image and ability to successfully conduct business. Current and aspiring marketing professionals, including those in programs like the online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Integrated Marketing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), must understand the importance of CSR to the success of their careers and organizations.

Marketing Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

A company’s reputation correlates to its commitment to CSR, particularly among socially conscious younger generations. A study by IBM in 2021 revealed that 84% of global consumers place high importance on sustainability when selecting a brand. Corporate leaders are taking note of this trend, as a 2021 KPMG study showed that 87% of CEOs view purpose as a central factor in building their brand reputation.

For companies, prioritizing CSR is crucial for building a strong brand image, maintaining positive public relations, driving sales and boosting customer loyalty. Few endeavors related to products and services have the potential to bring about as much positive change in social, economic and environmental domains as CSR initiatives.

When companies communicate their positive CSR agenda through online content, such as employee-created videos and blogs, they can expand their reach to a larger audience, including media outlets and government entities. These efforts may lead to additional recognition and promotion of their goodwill.

In today’s hyper-crowded market, consumers often find companies more appealing based on their CSR records, especially when there is little differentiation in product or service offerings among competitors. Social media plays a significant role in this process. Many consumers learn about companies and their positive CSR activities through social links from people they know rather than traditional advertising and marketing methods. 

Effective Ways to Incorporate Social Responsibility Into Marketing Plans

Companies that successfully integrate CSR into their marketing plans do so in authentic ways that align with their values and mission rather than simply using CSR as a marketing tactic. According to Investopedia, here are four common ways to use CSR in marketing:

1.       Cause-related marketing involves partnering with a nonprofit organization or a social cause and donating a portion of profits from core products to support the cause. The partnership should be genuine and aligned with the company’s values and mission. TOMS shoe company did this in 2006 by donating shoes to a child in need for every pair sold.

2.       Eco-friendly products and packaging and other actions that reduce waste or use renewable energy sources help companies promote their environmentally friendly practices. They can also highlight the environmental benefits of their products and packaging to attract environmentally conscious consumers. Seventh Generation, Patagonia and Pela engage in this CSR practice.

3.       Employee volunteer programs that align with the company’s values and mission can support CSR efforts. Companies can also highlight their employees’ volunteer work on their websites and social media. Organizations can engender goodwill among customers by offering employees paid time off each year to volunteer with nonprofit organizations. Businesses can also organize volunteer events throughout the year, such as community cleanups and food drives.

4.       Social media and content marketing channels allow companies to share stories and highlight their social responsibility initiatives. They can also collaborate with social media influencers aligned with their values and mission to promote their initiatives. For example, Microsoft is committed to sustainability and uses social media to share updates about its environmental initiatives and encourage followers to act on climate change.

Enabling Marketing Professionals to Harness the Power of CSR

UNCW’s online M.A. in Integrated Marketing program coursework introduces graduates to the social responsibility of organizations and the challenges of integrating socially relevant strategies into marketing plans. For example, IMC and the Strategic Mindset explores how ethics, diversity and inclusion inform integrated marketing communication and branding. In Communication Ethics and IMC, students learn how approaches to communication ethics relate to the theory and practice of integrated marketing communication. Diversity, Inclusion and the IMC Challenge examines topics regarding diversity and inclusion in integrated marketing communication organizations and branding and IMC efforts.

Prospective and current M.A. in Integrated Marketing students can take comfort in the fact that they will be entering a corporate world that values the same principles they do. By finding an organization that aligns CSR initiatives with their customers’ values and needs, they can help make a positive impact on social, economic and environmental issues — and their employers’ bottom lines — throughout their marketing careers.

Learn more about UNCW’s online M.A. in Integrated Marketing program.

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