Putting Trust at the Core of Communicating CSR

Leading examples of meaningful CSR communications that are building trust and pushing CSR to a mainstream tipping point

huls-roti-reminder-lifebuoy-campaign-catches-attention-at-kumbh-melaLast year, the Indian government passed a landmark bill—the Companies Bill 2013. One of the positive aspects of the bill was the section related to Corporate Social Responsibility. It suggests minimum CSR spends for companies of a certain size, turnover and profitability. While spending those funds is not mandatory (but reporting on whether the company did or not is), the bill is expected to generate funds of more than $30 billion USD annually to be used for CSR activities. As global awareness about the power exercised by corporations grows, many other countries might soon follow by mandating social responsibility for corporations.

Welcome as these changes are, the challenge now is to channel the rush of activity that bills like these generate into something useful over the long term. How do we ensure that corporate social responsibility translates into meaningful change instead of cosmetic PR exercises? How do we ensure that the CSR funds aren’t squandered on fragmented activities that have no long-term value? How can CSR be used strategically to build a legacy of trust?

At Junxion, we believe that today’s leading brands are values-driven, transparent, and inspiring. Strong brands ignite passion and excitement. They stand out because they’re authentic, and because they deliver clear, inscrutable value. The very best among them deliver something precious: they inspire confidence.

So, using our five-point TrustBrand rubric, we’ve identified leading examples of meaningful CSR communications that are building trust and pushing CSR to a mainstream tipping point.

  • PURPOSE BEYOND PROFIT
    People admire companies that are driven by a purpose beyond profit. Those firms have a vision of a world made better by their work, and everything they do is aligned with achieving that vision.Rabobank is a good example of walking the talk. Its refusal to lend to shale oil companies and farmers who are opening their land for drilling created news and illustrated its values-driven business practices. Rabobank actively partners with various organisations across the world in using innovative sustainable technologies. Having a well-understood purpose helps to craft precise and effective communications. Unlike many banks, Rabobank’s communications are people-centric and its content is convincingly purpose-driven.
  • BOLDLY DISTINCTIVE
    Consumers also admire companies that refuse to accept the status quo as a foregone conclusion and strive instead to positively reshape the world. A great example is Marks & Spencer’s partnership with Oxfam to launch the #Shwopping campaign.The campaign aims to source the unwanted clothes of M&S shoppers and redirect those articles to people who need aid. In its first year, the #Shwopping campaign diverted almost 6.9 million articles of clothing out of landfills, which is potentially worth £4.5 million for Oxfam. The partnership between Oxfam and M&S has so far generated £9.5 million.Similarly, Lifebuoy used Kumbh-Mela, a mass Hindu pilgrimage event, to spread awareness about personal hygiene in a very innovative manner. Kumbh-Mela is held in India every three years and attracts upwards of 100 million people. Lifebuoy partnered with more than 100 restaurants and cafés at the festival, as part of its on-going campaign to raise awareness about good hand washing habits (and symbiotic brand awareness.).For every food order placed, the first roti carried the branded message “Lifebuoy se haath dhoye kya?” (Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?). The words were heat stamped onto the baked roti, without the use of ink, to ensure it was completely edible.
    The message reached five million people.
  • VALUES-DRIVEN
    The leaders of admired companies invest themselves in building a positive company culture and care deeply about how their customers experience and perceive value in the company’s products or services.Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan articulates these values succinctly. It consistently promotes sustainable behaviour among its customers. It’s a leadership stance about growth without moral compromises, and communicates emotional, integrated messages with a worldwide campaign reach. A good recent example came from India, where the campaign #helpachildreach5 sought to raise awareness about infant mortality.Similarly, Unilever’s Project Sunlight curates and enables ideas sourced from children across the world in shaping a better tomorrow. It consistently communicates children as heroes and chronicles the real-time impact of the campaign.
  • TRANSPARENT
    Companies that embrace openness are admired for it. They recognise that it’s impossible to hide bad news, and that the next, great idea could come from anywhere.The Co-operative Group takes this spirit to heart with its ‘warts and all’ approach to reporting. For example, the recent Annual Report 2013 narrates management’s failings to anticipate ‘the near-failure’ of the groups’ banking business.It also conducts an annual membership engagement index that measures how engaged the members (i.e., their customers) feel.What’s more, its Ethical Operating Plan articulates the Group’s philosophy of working together for good. They followed up the launch of the plan with a campaign to celebrate the success of the people they’ve benefited. It’s a virtuous circle.Standardised Reporting is critical for stakeholders to understand and faithfully evaluate their relationship with companies. The Co-operative group has consistently benchmarked itself against the Corporate Responsibility Index (CRI) operated by Business in the Community (BitC) since 2009. It retained its ‘Platinum plus’ status in 2013.
  • INCLUSIVE AND ENGAGING
    People appreciate companies where the staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholder groups are considered in their planning. In fact, they’re essential contributors to strategy, and their distinctive viewpoints make plans stronger.Vancity, a credit union, is well placed to utilise its member community as its strength. The community feels satisfaction of being part of a solution. Its ‘Make good money’ slogan rings true with its efforts of ensuring better returns that are earned ethically. It echoes the concerns of its members’ communities in its communications; for example, recently it created a #bced campaign online to support striking teachers. It reached 400,000+ people in a very short period of time. Championing an emotive cause and driving value-based advocacy creates a sense of authenticity about the brand.Similarly, Vancity’s website emphasises the empathetic persona of the brand with community news and answers to personal dilemmas. It has created high impact video content with community-related stories, as well as case studies and commercials in various minority languages to reflect the diversity that is Vancouver.There is no question that corporations, in partnership with governments and civil society, are critical to addressing global CSR challenges. Inspired communications, rooted in strong values and radical transparency, help to ensure that corporations can be held accountable for creating meaningful changes, rather than simply adding noise to a critical conversation about our collective future.

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