April 07, 2015 04:00
By John McNeel in General
Every year, in the comfy confines of oak-paneled boardrooms around the world, decisions of consequence are made by groups of predominately old white men about which causes and nonprofits will benefit from their corporate largesse.
In the best of cases, these decisions are informed by some sense of the mission or purpose of the companies in question. In many more cases, the choices reflect nonprofit names that look good on paper, aren't controversial, or are simply the ones the company has been giving to for as long as anyone can remember. In the worst cases, charities are selected based on the chairman's golf partners.
This antiquated portrait, and the long-standing conventions governing corporate social responsibility (CSR), are striking not only in their datedness, but in how increasingly isolated they are from what is happening in almost every other aspect of how companies are trying to engage with customers and society at large.
Everywhere else, the customer is king. Customers have taken control of the brand narrative, content development and corporate reputation, and more and more they dictate how and where marketing dollars should be spent. Yet, because companies continue to treat CSR as a nice-to-have that's tacked on to the corporate budget and a prerogative of those old white men, it survives as one of the final bastions still immune to co-opting by the new customer influence.
While CSR has become in some ways synonymous with "cause marketing," almost none of the new standards of customer engagement that are becoming de rigueur for marketers are applied. The investment is often meaningless when it comes to helping to define a company for consumers.
The time has come for a disruption of the CSR space. Consumers need to begin to exercise the same kind of clout determining where charitable giving will be directed as they do when it comes to deciding on which media marketing dollars get spent. Why? Because if they don't, those precious dollars spent on CSR will become increasingly less effective as a tool for defining what a company stands for.
And yet, CSR decisions and activities matter to consumers. In a 2013 Cone Communications study, more than 9 in 10 people said they would be likely to switch brands to one that supports a "good" cause, given similar price and quality. But who should and will be defining "good" in that scenario? Given the new consumer voice and power, the answer becomes clear.
Here are four key developments that are pushing for disruption in CSR:
(This post was previously published in Ad Age on November 21, 2014.)
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