Today’s brands play a new role in shaping the sustainability of the future.
Historically, brands have delivered messages to consumers that were not aimed at convincing them about corporate responsibility. Instead, they aimed at telling consumers to do just that: consume. Brands controlled the message and the channel, and overall transparency was undervalued. This wasn’t because previous generations of leaders didn’t care but because the message they wanted to communicate was one of control and aspiration. But things have drastically changed. Today, we have stepped into the era of the human. Now, we have users and consumers. And these users are only consuming products they believe in — products that have a sense of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
"Studies show that focusing on CSR can make your brand more attractive to employees and investors and even impact bottom-line profitability."
Ana Andjelic describes the current marketplace as the "modern aspiration economy." She writes that “when the consumer value calculus is different, so is the business.” Today, the consumer values awareness of the issues. What's more, they take action and do something about it! That’s what matters. And it changes the role of brands.
Andjelic goes on to say that, “the modern aspiration economy is anchored not in accumulation and display of possessions or even experiences, but of social capital, environmental credits and cultural savviness.” What does this mean? It means that your brand must adopt and adapt. Leaders, I’m talking to you. Your brand can’t just adopt new values; it has to own them and adapt them throughout all levels of the organization.
Now that we know CSR is in the driver’s seat, gone are the days of brands spending their time exclusively with individual consumers. Instead, the communities where they gather are becoming the hub for this increasingly important issue.
Given my experience working with local startups and global brands, I’m going to outline three simple steps that can create lasting success for your business:
1. Create new values.
This is often talked about but usually not wholeheartedly embraced at the executive level. The fact is that the world has changed a lot. If you’re a leader, you need to stop what you’re doing and revisit the mission, vision and values of your organization. Then create behaviors that your leaders exemplify on a weekly basis in town halls, team stand-ups and all-hands meetings. Why? Because this is where your brand is born and reborn! And the landscape has shifted. Today, 75% of employees are asking employers to be involved in sustainability as a vital part of their operation.
In 2019, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wrote, "It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact."
This is a hard and serious ask and a historical moment for businesses. It’s a call to be more efficient, put CSR into our core values and practice what we preach. But are executives actually listening? Because the ones with open ears are starting to see the value and take action. It’s critical for leaders to rewrite their stories and make history by putting humans at the center of their businesses.
2. Adopt new ways for your employees to give back.
Partnerships are often only formed to increase the velocity of revenue growth in an organization. HR surveys are often too focused on what the company can do better for the employee, rather than how the employee can do better for the world. Today, you need to adopt a heart to give back. And that has to be internalized and exemplified by your executive team if it’s going to become a reality in every corner of your organization. Why?
Studies show that people who give tend to have lower rates of depression and higher rates of self-reported happiness. What's more, giving to a good cause can have profound impacts on short-term and long-term health. This helps with employee burnout at work. It helps your brand become more desirable and recruitment goes up. Attrition drops. It also gives them a sense of self-worth and a way to identify with your brand.
So, find out what causes your people care about, and put an action plan together to follow through. Connect your brand to NPOs — this will create long-term impact rather than flash-in-the-pan, short-term success. In short, this isn’t just the new way of doing things; it’s the right way of doing things. And it will pay off in the long term for your brand, your people and the world.
3. Build a culture of empathy.
In an ever-increasing globalized economy and emergent marketplace, culture matters. Not only the company culture but the background story of the beautiful people who work for you. These people, and the unique and diverse contexts that have shaped them, will become the context that shapes our brands and workplace culture. So, it’s critical that we don’t just hire a diverse team. What’s more important is that we cultivate processes and systems that are empathetic to different ways of communicating.
The end goal is to make your people feel heard and safe. If you do that, you’ve turned a “diversity hire” into an actionable belief that it’s not what we look like but how we interact with each other that helps all people thrive.
Final Takeaways To Achieving CSR Greatness
In conclusion, if you're not making CSR a priority, now is the time to start. It's not only a good investment for your people and the planet, but studies show that focusing on CSR can make your brand more attractive to employees and investors and even impact bottom-line profitability.
We are all impacted by the collective decisions we make as business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders. Now is the time for change. It's time for real values, empathy and giving back to each other and the planet on which we live.