Last updated on March 15th, 2016 at 10:06 am
Drs. Mishra and Modi want businesses to see the importance of being socially responsible and to understand the benefits of CSR. Marketing, their research shows, is key to how others perceive your corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. Building stakeholder awareness and evidence-based marketing are among the tips from a recent study that points to the critical role played by marketing departments in leveraging social responsibility.
The new study by Dr. Saurabh Mishra, Associate Professor, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University and Dr. Sachin B. Modi, Associate Professor, College of Business, Iowa State University, was recently published in the Journal of Marketing.
Their findings indicate that a strong marketing department is crucial to helping a firm leverage its corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, which can have tangible benefits for stakeholders.
“The role of the marketing function in ensuring that a firm can leverage its CSR efforts cannot be overstated,” according to Modi and Mishra. “A strong marketing department and its efforts are a cornerstone of success for corporate social responsibility effort.”
When asked for their top tips for B2B enterprises to market their social responsibility, Dr. Modi and Dr. Mishra provided the following four tips.
- Build stakeholder awareness of CSR efforts: It is the purview of Marketing to ensure that the stakeholders are aware about an organization’s CSR efforts. Awareness is the first step to building a strong brand image and loyalty amongst various stakeholders. Here, the marketing function needs to take on the role of managing the relationship with not only the direct customers but also other stakeholders such as the community, the shareholders, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations.
- Evidence based marketing is critical: In marketing CSR efforts firms often run the risk of increasing their exposure to claims of “greenwashing.” As such, any communication and assertions made by the organization to its B2B customers, as well as other stakeholders, need to be verifiable. Efforts such as reducing the carbon footprint, use of clean energy, commitment to diversity and equitable corporate governance (i.e. limiting board compensation), etc. need to be transparent with concrete evidence and measures of the firms current state, efforts and targets. Industry recognized certifications and transparent corporate social responsibility reports can go a long way.
- Involvement of the Marketing department in corporate social responsibility efforts is critical: Marketing is often the conduit between an organization and its customers. Knowledge about customer industries and what customers value often resides within personnel in the marketing function. As organizations embark on the CSR journey the marketing function needs to be involved in such efforts. Not all CSR efforts provide the same returns and neither do the customers value different types of CSR equally. For example: while some B2B customers may value environmental performance and lower carbon emissions, for others, diversity and employee treatment (especially when operations are in developing countries) may be of more value. Marketing function can be critical in guiding the types of CSR efforts that are highly valued and can be leveraged. It can help ensure that the B2B customer’s perspective is kept in mind as investments are made in CSR.
- Take a value chain perspective of Corporate Social Responsibility: A firm ability to deliver to customer expectations is often limited by the capability of its supply chain. This is also true for corporate social responsibility. B2B customers often want their second and third tier supplier (which are the firm’s first and second tier suppliers) to be socially responsible as well. While an organization’s sourcing/procurement function is often involved in managing its supply base, integration of marketing and supply chain functions to ensure that supplier capabilities are aligned with not only the firm’s requirements but also by extension to the B2B customer’s expectations is important. Marketing function needs to help develop such integration and alignment.
As Dr. Mishra and Dr. Modi posited in their study, “marketing capability plays a complementary role in the CSR–shareholder wealth relationship.”