The fact that brands in the B2C arena are jumping on the CSR bandwagon seems to be the new standard of doing business. Today, consumer marketing may touch on charity and altruism, a strategy meant to encourage loyalty from an increasingly socially conscious public.
Believe it or not, CSR is a trend that B2Bs can benefit from, too. More than that, in fact, it’s a trend that B2B companies can no longer afford to ignore.
Baka going fresh
CSR in action is certainly inspiring to encounter. Take, for example, wireless solutions provider Baka Communications’ recent announced that it has partnered with urban farmers Fresh City. This partnership resulted in Baka donating land on its urban property to Fresh City, which would build and maintain a 4,000-square-foot vegetable greenhouse on what was previously grass.
Describing himself as a serial entrepreneur, Baka CEO John Marion got the idea for urban farming when he started thinking about ways to incorporate fresh, locally-grown vegetables into his company’s combination mobility store and café.
“There’s a big demand for urban-grown vegetables,” Marion explains. “Consumers want to know what they’re getting and where it’s coming from, and they want to feel good about what they eat.”
It makes good sense for brands to attract consumers through corporate social responsibility, but what benefit does CSR offer B2B firms? What kind of ROI can a B2B executive expect from being socially conscious? Rather than think of ROI, Marion advocates for thinking about RODG — Return on Doing Good.
“Companies want companies that have a great reputation,” he states. “If I have a choice, I’d rather deal with a company that’s got a better report card on social responsibility.”
These days, social activity seems to be a more popular component of why companies choose to do business with other companies. As Ryan Scott, CEO of Causecast, points out, “Businesses do care. Everyone is vending their entire supply chain these days. Community engagement and charity questions are starting to find their way into RFPs, and companies are starting to become concerned about tracking CSR.”
Causecast has gone neck-deep into CSR. In fact, the organization offers “giving and volunteering” technology solutions for companies looking to elevate employee engagement and social impact. Not only are they a B2B firm that engages in CSR, they are a B2B that offers CSR solutions to other businesses.
Scott argues that one of the reasons B2B firms should be interested and engaging in CSR is employee satisfaction. “People aren’t looking for a job,” he says, “they’re looking for purpose. When employees are disengaged, and aren’t giving it their all, it costs the company real money. But an engaged workforce means higher productivity, higher profit, and higher revenue growth.”
It also costs businesses money to have to replace disengaged employees who have chosen to move on. “It’s expensive to replace employees,” Scott points out. “It’s all about sustainability. The [companies] that don’t look to sustainability are often the ones that are not winning the war for talent. Creating a culture of giving back and giving to your employees, now that’s the kind of reputation you want for your company if you want to attract and keep talented employees.”
Making it Qlik
This is a benefit which Julie Whipple, Global Director, Corporate Social Responsibility at Qlik, a business intelligence and visualization software company, has seen first-hand.
She says, “Qlik is in the technology space and within a very competitive hiring market. Potential employees always ask about a company’s culture and their CSR programs. Qlik has found that our programs provide a competitive hiring advantage — people want to work at Qlik because of CSR — and provides opportunities to employees to stay involved, thus Qlik is able to retain great employees.”
A driving factor of this shift in social responsibility is the influx of Millennials into the workforce. Research done by Cone Communications indicates that Millennials are the most ardent supporters of CSR. The research finds that, “Millennials are more fervent in their support of corporate social and environmental efforts and are, above and beyond, more likely to say they would participate in CSR initiatives if given the opportunity … Millennials are also prepared to make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about.”
Millennials, too, are ardent users of social media. Whether they’re employees, or they’re employees of a company vending another company’s services, they’re on social media. The Cone Communications report says, “Millennials, as digital natives, believe social media can be their megaphone to make an impact on issues they care about. This group is far more likely to use social media to address or engage with companies around social and environmental issues …”
Baka’s John Marion agrees with this finding, adding, “I truly believe that Millennials have embraced social media like no one else. They’re the pioneers of social media, and they’re embracing it. That’s how people are able to get the word across.”
What impact do Millennials have on B2B companies? Clearly, they are the up-and-comers in the workforce. They are, in ever greater numbers, having more of an impact on the decision of one business to use another. No B2B firm can ignore the fact that people run business and make business decisions. More often, the lines between personal ethics and business ethics are merging.
Make it count…respectfully
So then, if you’re in the B2B space, you should be engaging in CSR. But a note of caution: you need to be careful not to make it appear that your social responsibility efforts are for the sole purpose of raising your charitable profile. B2BMarketing.net says, “As good as your CSR strategy may be, promoting the fact that you have one is often a company’s downfall. Using your CSR activities in your marketing strategy can undermine your work and ultimately be detrimental to your business practices.”
To avoid this, Julie Whipple of Qlik suggests that CSR needs to be an integral part of a company’s culture. “The first priority of any successful program,” she insists, “needs to be on the charity or organization receiving the benefit. It cannot be inwardly focused or it will feel artificial.”
As noted above, the benefit of CSR can be measured in terms of a Return on Doing Good. Corporate social responsibility is a valuable enterprise, but only if it’s done for the sake of assisting the cause.
Baka’s John Marion says of his philosophy, “I’m fortunate to have a business, I’m fortunate that it’s doing well. If one-by-one we can get people to slow down, help our own community and our local environment — it’s whatever we can do to make this place a better place.”