Our collective consciousness is changing. A lot of us are thinking about what the future looks like. Whether privacy is a myth. Whether our planet will recover. Whether there is something more to cashing your paycheck. Whether you can make actual change happen.
This is an era about owning your individual responsibility as a business for what will happen to our collective future. It’s about anticipating the consequences before they happen. It’s about doing the right thing when no one is watching, it’s about staying consistent, and it’s about being transparent. As your business grows, so too will your customer base and audience. With this, comes more influence and more exposure. As your audience grows and as more eyes become attuned to your brand, it will become very important that you are there to answer for your decisions and choices as a business.
This is ultimately the entry point to understanding corporate social responsibility (CSR) and why it’s not just a trend, but it’s demonstrating that the audience landscape is shifting and expectations are changing for all brands alike. CSR has been defined as “a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.” It does not mean ‘save the world’, it does not mean piggyback on the hot-button issue of the month and play the hero. It means long-term investment and planning for a future that can be fruitful and beneficial to your stakeholders, your mission, and your values. CSR has to make sense for your people, your product, and your business model, it cannot and should not be used as a bandaid to patch over bad PR.
For some of you, this will seem obvious and simple. For others, this may seem overwhelming and maybe even impossible. The customer today has the power of information. The power to research and make decisions before they follow or buy. In a 2011 macro study, Google called this “The Zero Moment of Truth.” This means that your audience can now reject you before they even arrive on your website to hear about your services and view your products. The reality today is that the bridge to lead generation can be severed in one moment.
This is specifically pertinent to those brands that have Gen Z and Millennial audiences. Your audience has been studied and proven to use social media as their first point of entry and their first point of contact with a brand or a product. Consequently, these generations are known to be the most active and demanding audience when it comes to brand social responsibility. Their engagement is more than a metric for your success in the digital space, it shows that the human on the other side of the screen is moved to act because of your content, your brand, your identity, your ideals.
Another way of looking at this is as ‘cause marketing’, with this mindset you can apply creative and authentic storytelling that resonates with your audience and leads them to remember what your brand stands for. Once this kind of deep-level buy-in occurs, your products and services are a given. Backed by a CSR model you can lead the way in your industry creating new standards. Furthermore, being first will allow you to create and access an audience of active, consistent, and loyal consumers.
If you want to be around past the clicks, the likes, and the shares, consider what your message is and what you stand for. What seems foreign, expensive, and not worth your time now, will be the new normal very soon. There will be new standards to uphold, in some instances there already are. Look at the development of the legal structure: Benefit Corporations, already including big brands such as Patagonia™ and Athleta™. Companies new and old using legislation in this way are able to create a link between their mission and a cause. To not only use as a cherry on top, but rather, as a tool that can benefit all aspects of their business’s success. Ultimately, corporate social responsibility only works if you follow through with action, transparency, and accountability.
So, stop for a second and take account of your mission, values, and business models. Are they working for you? Are they working for your employees? Are they working for your customer? Are they working for your bottom line? How can you align all of those different arms of your business and unite them with one strategy? By incorporating daily, monthly, and yearly CSR goals, that include feedback from both your employees and customers, you can create small changes to your outputs as a business and allow yourselves to be innovative and reinvent the way business is done today. It’s not a matter of how anymore, it’s a matter of when.
1. Lecinski, Jim. Winning the Zero Moment of Truth. eBook ed., Google, 2011.
2. “Gen Z: Getting to Know the ‘Me Is We’ Generation.” Facebook IQ, 22 Oct. 2019, https://www.facebook.com/business/news/insights/generation-z.