Using Values to Determine Socially Responsible Initiatives

February 2013, by Antonia Nicols, Connector & Consultant, Awaken Group

As mentioned in a previous blog, the most successful business strategies, just as in life, are when the strategies are designed in alignment with clear underlying values which management and employees share, and which customers also believe in.

Where some firms run into trouble is when they create strategies without considering corporate values, and then have to struggle to clarify the message, or to keep it relevant to the brand.

A classic example of this is corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy.  The CSR programs of many corporations aren’t necessarily aligned with the values of the corporation to begin with. Frequently, CSR programs are designed either in response to some kind of breakdown or negative press, or because the company feels like it “should do something” because others are, rather than creating a strategy that’s consistent with the company’s brand.

The end result is ineffective at best, and at its worst backfires when either internal or external people consider a CSR program to be “white-“ or “green-washing” a company’s problems.  As an example, Shell Oil claimed in a 2008 advertisement that its giant $10B oil sands project in northern Canada was a “sustainable energy source”. This ad was subsequently branded as “misleading” by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority, which stated that “green claims should not ‘be vague or ambiguous, for instance by simply trying to give a good impression about general concern for the environment. Claims should always avoid the vague use of terms such as ‘sustainable’, ‘green’, ‘non-polluting’ and so on”, and ruled that the ad not be shown again in its current form. [1]

This is not to say that all companies need to have a CSR program. But if you have one, or are thinking about starting one, consider this:


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Artist: Oh, Sang Tek (Source: Art Angel Korea)

  • A report from consultants Penn Schoen Berland indicates that consumers are beginning to regard social responsibility as a quality that adds commercial value to products. A 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey of 1,000 consumers reported that 70% thought CSR was important despite the recession, and would pay as much or more for socially responsible goods. The report shows that CSR is becoming more effective as a marketing tool and that consumer perception of firm CSR has an increased effect on firm branding.[2]
  • Given this trend, it’s more important than ever that companies are able to define and express their internal values, and market to consumers who share those values.
  • A company’s CSR program is one of many external expressions of its value system. Other external expressions include a) how customers are treated; b) the role the company’s product or service plays in customers’ lives; c) relationships with vendors; and d) the company’s environmental stance as expressed through sustainability initiatives.
  • If your CSR initiatives are not closely aligned with your brand and the values your brand is perceived of as espousing, your CSR initiatives may come back to haunt you, as they did Shell.

Some New Ways of Thinking:

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Here are some successful examples of how other companies are integrating their values, CSR programs, and strategies to nurture and protect their brand:

Example 1: TOMS Shoes. TOMS Shoes is one of the strongest examples of a company’s values driving their product, brand awareness, and strategic initiatives. In fact, you could say that a CSR strategy for TOMS Shoes is redundant, so integrated is their socially responsible “one for one” approach to their product and marketing strategies.

Here is a recent TOMS video about giving:


Source: www.toms.com

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Example 2:  Zappos.  Zappos’ tagline and vision both internally and externally is “Delivering Happiness”.  This applies to their customers, their employees, their management, and their shareholders.  How they “deliver happiness” to their customers: on-time deliveries, superior customer service, personalized service.  To their employees:  free lunches, health care, nap rooms, and by empowering them to make decisions that will make the customers happy.  How do they deliver happiness to their shareholders? By being sold for $1.29 billion.

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Example 3: Mattel.  Mattel’s Mission Statement is “Creating the Future of Play.” Their philanthropic efforts focus on expanding children’s abilities to play. The Mattel Children’s Foundation supports seven groups:  Mattel Children’s Hospital, National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI) through which over 66,000 toys are donated to most of its 220 member organizations annually, PlayWorks, Special Olympics, Save the Children, Children Affected by AIDS, and Make-A-Wish.

Here are 3 questions that can help you get started on how to integrate your organization’s values into your brand:

1)     What is the experience that you want your employees to have of your workplace?

2)     What is the experience that you want your customers to have when they patronize your products and/or services?

3)     How could those experiences be reflected in your marketing and social media messaging?

Having a clearly defined CSR program will provide you with a wealth of information to share with your customers that is entertaining, on-message, and aligned with your corporate values.