How CSR will shape brands in 2017

All over the world, one of the central issues for brand owners in the new business year is improving on their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in terms of aims and objectives, visibility, reporting, among others. Analysts believe that for companies to make a bold statement in their commitment to corporate social responsibility this year, they must understand and follow the trend.
Report has shown that some of the companies operating in Nigeria and across Africa are either completely unaware of the importance of CSR when it comes to their operations in Africa, compared with what is obtainable in other parts of the world. To this end, analysts say that consumers are increasingly interested in the activities of companies. Therefore, any brand that wants to appeal to consumers most does the needful in 2017.

Reacting to this issue, a brand and marketing analyst, Samuel Ajayi, told Daily Times, “Corporate social responsibility is more competitive than it was. A few years back, it was enough for public companies to have a fairly comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility section on their website, with a simple PDF presentation and a few images of how they took into consideration the environment, communities, and their social impact. A vague understanding of social impact is no longer enough to stand out amongst the top public companies with the best CSR reputations. Taking action against climate change, contributing to social justice movements, and standing firm in founding principles are trends in themselves for big companies, and have become not just acceptable, but expected. With more companies understanding the value CSR can bring to both their public image and their stakeholders, it’s getting harder to make a message stand out in a sea of ‘doing good.”

According to him, “CSR content will become even more personalized, therefore, handlers of brands should focus on CSR goals that make sense for their company and they will garner the most trust from their primary stakeholders. As we talk, a trap that many companies fall into is thinking that CSR is only about giving back to the environment. CSR can also focus on efforts with local communities and interactions with your own consumers and what matters to them. Building investor trust means tailoring content to their main concerns, while also ensuring you’re staying true to your company’s story and goals. If you’ve published multiple CSR success stories to a company newsletter, one focusing on community impact and one focusing on social change, you can serve different content to different investors based on what they most care about.”

While explaining further on what brands must do in 2017 to stand out in terms of CSR, he posited, “Perhaps, the biggest trend we see each year in the digital marketing world is that the online attention span of consumers is shrinking astronomically. We are so used to getting the information we want online right away, in bite-sized pieces. The same concept applies to investors. Your investors won’t have the time to read a 15-page PDF report on how your latest CSR measure impacted a community and benefited your company. Break down the CSR successes of the past year with videos, data visualizations, or animations on your website. Even more important: make your reporting shareable. Short videos illustrating your impact as a company are the perfect way to get some brand differentiation and easily circulate your message.”

On his part, the Managing Director of Maksrite Communication, Gbenga Olawole said that company owners must learn to align their CSR goals with those at the top.

His words: “Ethical Corporation’s report states that “Only 25% of CSR executives [surveyed] stated their chief financial officer (CFO) is absolutely convinced of the value of the CSR report”.

For him, this is a problem. If a company’s chief executive officer (CEO), (CFO), and more aren’t aware of the CSR goals for the coming year, or don’t see value in spending more time, energy, and money on CSR initiatives or CSR reporting, your company will come across as disjointed and not united in your social message. Ensure that environmental impact, social justice, and community service goals aren’t simply dreamt and executed within one department. The whole company, from the top to the bottom, should understand the importance of what you’re doing and how it relates to your vision and end goals.

According to him, handlers of a brand should make CSR presentations available on every platform translating their CSR initiatives to video and animation, but it’s equally important to make sure what they are putting out there can be accessed by anyone who wants to see what their company is up to. 2017 will see even more people disregard their desktops for a mobile phone, so make sure every downloadable CSR presentation, testimonial video, customer story, and website link are available on a smartphone or tablet browser.

He further disclosed that in 2017, brands should not only report CSR but relate it. Investors want to see how CSR initiatives affected the numbers, but that doesn’t mean you can pull a ‘number dump’ and be done with it. Make sure you’re not just reporting the numbers or you’ll create a disconnect between your company and the lives you actually impacted. So this year, think about other ways to illustrate the impact you’ve made. Include more employee testimonials, customer success stories, environmental impact studies, or ‘Message from the CEO’ videos. Mixing up how you deliver CSR good news makes sure investors, as well as your target audiences, don’t get number fatigue.

Also explaining CSR in Africa and global best practice, Mr. Eustace Onuegbu, President of International Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (INCSR) and the CEO of De Bernards Consulting Ltd said: “For clarity, it may be good to apply another definition by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which defines CSR as “the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

You can clearly understand from the above definition that what most organizations in this part of the world term as CSR is simply “Corporate Philanthropy” where they return a share of their profit to the society irrespective of the way they conduct their business. By developing a web page with photos of you building a small healthcare centre, classroom block or constructing a road for the host community does not mean that your organization is CSR-compliant. I often get amazed when in the process of research or otherwise, I come across company websites that involve in what I term as “Image Laundering”. Worst still is the fact that there are a number of CSR awards being given out each year by a number of organizations that (with all due respect) don’t even know the true meaning of CSR. Here you have an organization that may not have paid its workers a living wage, may have never conducted a CSR audit being given a CSR award by maybe an organization that does not have a CSR professional and did not engage any CSR audit company to properly assess the activities of the organization.”

According to him, “I have often challenged the merits for such awards. One can only conclude that this is another image laundering approach being deployed by some organizations made possible due to lack of good governance. Organizations are required to conduct annual CSR audits in most parts of the world to ascertain both existing and potential risks that the organization may be facing and with the help of a qualified usually external CSR auditor(s), design an intervention CSR strategy to mitigate against such risks. Please, get this right – corporate philanthropy is good but should be a small part of the entire CSR strategy in an organization. An organization should have a CSR strategy that creates shared stakeholder value – both internal and external stakeholders.”

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Chuka Francis

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