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The Gift of Giving: Corporate Social Responsibility’s Effect on Branding Strategy


This year, we saw a one-minute Super Bowl spot from Toyota featuring a Paralympic athlete and the journey she took to increase her chances of winning a gold medal. Heartwarming and inspiring—no cars were featured in the ad, which promoted the phrase, “When we’re free to move, anything is possible.” So what does this say about what we value as consumers? Are features and benefits our main concern? The fact is, in a world with so much variety, availability, and interconnected commerce, we subscribe to the brands we choose to invest loyalty in, not the products we choose to buy.

Due to an increasing number of communication channels and the ubiquity of media, our perception of personal action and impact is much grander than in the past. People now want to know how their decisions and purchases impact those on the other side of the screen. Over the past two decades, corporate social responsibility has grown rapidly as an industry, with some of the largest companies in the world collaborating with organizations to champion important causes which relate to their businesses. Google, Microsoft, and Disney have prioritized education, environmentalism and community engagement in their efforts to promote a better world while building the character of their brands.

So just how much can participation benefit your company beyond increasing profit? The advantages speak for themselves. Connecting with the community that surrounds your company can not only widen your audience exposure by increasing your marketable population, but also incorporates an additional segment of consumers who support the partner organization or cause into your consumer base.

In addition to improved publicity and value, companies with high levels of involvement with philanthropic organizations have reported higher levels of employee satisfaction in their day-to-day work (2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report). Workers who feel their jobs contribute to something bigger than their direct audience are more inclined to work harder and happier. Better people means a better company.

Most importantly, consumers are increasingly attuned to the ethical implications of choices made by businesses, today. Negatively impacting our planet by depleting resources, endorsing corruption and doing anything to generate profit no longer flies under the radar. Each company’s actions, for better or worse, set an example. As a result, consumers are flocking to those companies whose stories resonate with them and that contribute to the plan for a better future.

Although it may be overwhelming to choose one focus for your company’s social responsibility activities, there are some criteria that may help make that decision easier.

1. Does your company have a certain related field?
For example, if you are a medical device company, your most direct field of interest is health. You most likely already have a network in this community and your consumers are interested in this subject. Utilize your resources!
2. What level of involvement would you like to pursue?
If you’re a smaller company, consider partnering with a smaller nonprofit to determine how to best utilize your company’s expertise and resources. Whether this be local or international, this will help to target the audience that is most directly affected by your company.
3. Stick to the values of your company.
A partnership isn’t something to be taken lightly, as how any partner organization acts and operates will reflect on your own brand’s values and principles. Make sure that you align with a cause or nonprofit that shares the same goals and values as your own.

Knowing the reach of your work, the makeup of your audience and the values of your employees are key factors in deciding what your company should pursue in the realm of corporate social responsibility. Be a company with which people are proud to associate themselves and their efforts. Believe it or not, your brand will probably see a boost and your audience will likely respond to these efforts with increased loyalty and admiration.

What brands are you passionate about and how are they changing the world? We’re always thankful for your comments, so please share below!

Watch one of Toyota’s three 2018 Super Bowl ads here: