Giving Back

Research Shows Well-Executed CSR Strategy Results In More Loyal Customer Base

CSR can do real good in the world — and, when it's properly integrated into your organization's mission, result in a much stronger, more loyal customer base.

There’s usually one consistent motivator behind a meeting’s CSR program: to do good. Well-executed CSR activities can help provide lunches for students in need, or clean up underprivileged or storm-ravaged neighborhoods, or improve the quality of life for the homeless. That is the driving idea behind corporate social responsibility. Or at least it was when the term was coined back in the 1960s.

“When [CSR] was originally done, it was done for good merit and good reason,” said Mark Johnson, CEO and CMO of Loyalty 360 (the Loyalty Marketer’s Association), which recently released a report called “Corporate Social Responsibility: Making a Difference for Customer Relationships.” “But a lot of people, as [CSR] grew, exploited it more from a marketing perspective. So it wasn’t a core extension of the brand itself.”

Loyalty 360 found that all successful CSR initiatives have five things in common: They are logical extensions of a company’s and consumer’s core competencies; engaging; in harmony with an organization’s business practices; part of the brand promise; and clearly communicated to the audience. An organization won’t be as successful if its CSR programs don’t “mesh up” with its brand’s beliefs, Johnson said, because the programs often come across as a hollow marketing ploy that may not ignite any actual change, creating a disconnect between the organization and its customers.

Contrast that with high-end outdoor-clothing company Patagonia, which was founded on the idea that you should leave the planet as you found it — and whose recent CSR campaign “The Responsible Economy” is a clear extension of that idea.

Through a series of essays and interviews, the company sparked conversation about how people live beyond Earth’s resources and what can be done to diminish the resulting damage to our ecosystem. “Patagonia’s goals are to use virtually every communications tool available,” Sandra Marquardt, a spokeswoman for Patagonia, said in Loyalty 360’s report, “to create a public debate that will galvanize civic society and business to make changes in consumption and innovation, and provide the necessary support for policy changes as well.” Through research, Marquardt said, Patagonia discovered that the “second-strongest draw” for customers over the past five or six years has been its “reputation for social and environmental innovations as a business.”

Loyalty 360’s findings show that organizations have a higher likelihood of making money if they don’t focus on making money. “Companies are trying to appeal to the consumer in a more genuine way,” Johnson said. “Community and collaboration and commitment are very important. Brands who have a commitment to social responsibility, and are doing it authentically, are the ones that have the most highly engaged fans.”

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.