In April 2013 the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh caused international consumer outrage. Brands from around the world were in damage control mode after it has been revealed that many of their products were made at that factory where the working conditions could be labeled as “modern day slavery”.
A few weeks earlier Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s biggest bank, had to deal with consumer calls for a collective boycott over reports about its hiring practices. Some bank employees that were given termination notices unveiled the bank’s plan to replace them with temporary foreign workers as part of cost cutting efforts.
To make matters worse, the Canadian employees being let go were asked by the bank to train their replacements until fully capable to perform the job.
These two examples only reinforce an obvious consumer trend: the relationship with a particular brand doesn’t end with the purchase of a particular product or service.
The modern consumers have much higher expectations from brands that are part of their daily lives.
They demand to know how a particular product is made, where it is sourced from, and how corporations treat their employees, suppliers, local community and the environment.
Many companies, the big ones in particular, incorporate social responsibility into their business strategy. But only a few turned this concept into their main differentiating claim.
Socially responsible marketing is a great way to differentiate from competition. Here are 10 reasons why:
- A meaningful differentiating claim. Successful differentiation starts with identifying a relevant consumer benefit that creates brand preference and (ideally) loyalty. This study by Cone Inc. shows that 89% of millennials (people born between 1982 and 2002) are likely or very likely to switch from one brand to another (price and quality being equal) if the second brand is associated with a good cause.
- A sustainable strategy. Social-responsibility is a broad concept that includes both social (giving back to the society) and environmental (green) initiatives. This translates into a variety of options to reinforce the “social-responsibility” claim.
- A superior alternative to the “green” positioning. Positioning a brand as “green”, while desirable, is not enough to generate economic value. In other words most people will not buy a product just because it’s green. Corporate social responsibility has a more immediate and quantifiable impact on people’s lives.
- A relevant “concept”. Social-responsibility resonates with every member of our society, no matter the role in the economic chain. Socially responsible marketing builds positive perceptions with the company’s suppliers, distributors and final consumers.
- Accessible to most brands, regardless of product offering. Brands that will benefit the most from pursuing socially responsible marketing are those who cannot easily implement product based-differentiation. The social benefit moves the focus away from the functional characteristics of the product being offered.
- The chance to be the first in your category to make the claim. Many categories still lack a “socially-responsible” leader. Social-responsibility is mostly use to support the principal brand claim rather than as the core differentiating message. Most brands pursue “classic” strategies to differentiate from competition (product, quality, superior service, and price).
- Justifies a price premium. This global study conducted by A.C.Nielsen shows that socio-conscious consumers are willing to pay more for socially-responsible products and services.
- Cost effective to implement. It doesn’t take a lot of financial resources to create positive impact. A small donation to a local school, logistic and human support for a local cause will go a long way toward creating positive associations for your brand.
- Great content generator. It’s been said that meaningful content is the new advertising. Since corporate social-responsibility is such as broad concept, the opportunities to generate unique content are endless.
- Increased employee loyalty. HR professionals know how challenging it can be to attract and keep talented employees. According to this study by Cone Inc. 79% of millennials want to work for a company that contributes to society.
Brand managers who are looking for ways to differentiate the brand should consider social-responsibility marketing as a very viable option. All it takes is commitment, a review of the current business practices and involvement in the local community.