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What Does a Corporate Conscience Cost?

Customers expect companies to take stands on important social issues, but companies should know those stands can come with a cost in the form of boycotts from other consumers.

Apple, Nike and other brands willingly press the envelope by incorporating high-profile social issues into marketing programs. These are hyper-CSR (corporate social responsibility) campaigns. While typical CSR efforts resonate with a broad spectrum of consumers by showing empathy, awareness and support for important causes, the campaigns that generate the largest buzz — and the loudest criticism — tend to be ripped from the headlines.

Make no mistake: CEOs willing to leap into the fire are betting the heat will boost brand equity far beyond any negative response. In fact, the controversy these efforts breed is a tactic for fueling earned and social media attention, boosting brand affinity among target customers.

Brands are deciding that taking a stand is far less of a calculated risk than keeping a low profile on political, social, economic and environmental issues. Hyper-CSR is driven by the shifting attitudes among 18- to 54-year-old consumers — more than two-thirds of whom fall into an emerging “belief-driven buyers” category.

Companies getting the biggest benefit from hyper-CSR recognize three facts:

  1. Being on the right side of history makes marketing sense. The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand Study found 65 percent of consumers won’t buy from a company that stayed silent about an issue they had a duty to address, while 67 percent of consumers made a first-time purchase from a company based on a stand taken on an issue.
  2. Picking the right stage to make a big splash is important. Not every brand can afford to run national television spots, so companies must find the best place and time when the world you are trying to influence is paying attention.
  3. An integrated communications approach is critical. You must be sure all stakeholders — from employees to customers — hear about what you are doing and why. Marshal paid, earned and social media resources to amplify your key messages. Leveraging influencers and advocacy groups that support your position can help your stance go viral.

Poking a sleeping bear is risky, but consumers increasingly want to buy products from companies they see as socially aware and active. Hyper-CSR initiatives are one way to prove your brand is relevant and engaged.

Learn more about CSR and building your brand.