Embrace Corporate Social Accountability

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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Consumers prefer brands that do actually good things, not brands that simply inject themselves into conversations.

CEOs and CMOs who want to benefit from this should leapfrog CSR initiatives and embrace Corporate Social Accountability.

Two weeks ago, the industry press reported that P&G Chief Brand Officer, Mark Pritchard, stated at the VivaTech Conference in Paris that "the marketing community has stepped up to focus on community impact. They've stepped up on equality and inclusion, and now sustainability, but the industry in general has gone too far into the good and potentially not paying enough attention to growth."

Mark later clarified that he was not down on purpose. He changed P&G's marketing mantra from "a force for good and a force for growth" to "a force for growth and a force for good" simply to remind his team of their actual priorities.

This made headlines because Mark is one of the great business leaders who drove the industry toward purpose-driven marketing. I remember being inspired by him at the ANA Masters a few ago when he talked about the incredible success of the Always "Like a Girl" campaign that did as much to raise girls' self-esteem as it did to sell tampons.

And it sold one heck of a lot of tampons.

At the time, he said onstage that P&G was looking to define purpose across their portfolio of brands. Today, he's dialing that back a bit. Which is smart. Brands need to actually do good, not just talk about it. A study conducted by Traction a few years ago revealed that 41% of consumers felt cause marketing was "just spin," 40% felt everyone was doing it, and 26% said it was annoying.

The most sustainable way to consistently do more good is to focus on growth, but be accountable for impact.

As Mark elaborated, "Our growth drives economic good... it enables you to do more good for society and the planet."

The key word here is "do."

Purpose is not something that lives in a PowerPoint deck. That comes across as performative, not substantive—and most consumers are not swayed by it. The limited business impact of "purpose" on actual sales was highlighted in a 2021 YouGov survey. Only about a quarter of people surveyed said they prioritize brand values over price.

But that's comparing values to price at the point of purchase. When we start to look at attitudes—the stuff that long-term brand preference is built on—the impact of purpose starts to climb. 75% of Gen Zs, 67% of Millennials, and over half of Gen Xs have a positive attitude about brands getting involved in social and political issues that are related to their product or service.

An even deeper dive into the report illustrates that "Consumers place greater emphasis on doing the right thing than on making statements about these issues. Articulating social values and taking a stand on political issues ranked lowest in consumer priorities."

Which brings us back to Corporate Social Accountability.

The notion of "Corporate Social Responsibility" has become greater today than ever before as companies have become more powerful and more influential in our lives.

It's time for corporations to put their money—and actions—where their mouth is.

If marketers want to build loyalty and brand preference from consumers—heck, if you want loyalty from employees—a far better way to do that is to do more, not talk more.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to the notion that businesses have an obligation to society beyond their commitments to their stockholders or investors. But, too often, CSR equates to feel-good employee actions taken at corporate events.

Corporate Social Accountability (CSA) makes putting your money where your mouth is endemic.

Here are several ways companies can embrace CSA:

  • Embrace social justice benefits. Doing good starts with your people. Traction has been a pioneer in designing social justice benefits. If you'd like to talk with us about how we could do that for you, drop us a line.
  • Evaluate (or emulate) B-Corp status. B-Corps, or public benefit corporations, have accountability built into their corporate charter. Emerging, mission-driven companies like Vessel, are embracing this corporate structure to keep themselves accountable for positive social action. Even if a change in corporate status isn't feasible, adopting elements of a B-corp can make your company more accountable.
  • Be transparent. Make measurement a priority. Publish it on your website. Communicate it with your team and your investors.
  • Be consistent. The concept of sustainability is manifested when doing good translates to reaping rewards. Which is why so many marketers have made the mistake of rushing to talk the talk more than they walk the walk. And why many brands have come out with lip service to placate the media and customer outrage around a cause, only to revert to status quo behaviors soon after. Clearly defined accountability will help ensure you stay the course.
  • Be distinct. There's nothing wrong with applying a marketing lens on how you make an impact. When Traction introduced our non-partisan Days of Action policy giving staff paid leave to participate in democracy, we struck a chord—intentionally. We got a lot of attention—much of it vicious trolling, but also a great deal of fervent support from many in the industry. We also made an impact as thousands of companies across the US gave employees time off to vote for the first time during the last election. We helped influence that. It's worth taking the time to evaluate what you can do to strike a nerve. Standing out in a crowd for what you do is meaningful.
  • Listen. Evaluate. Evolve. Make sure you maintain a feedback loop for customers and employees. Culture is liquid. You need to keep an ear to the pulse of it, and be ready to adapt when the winds change.

Companies need to do more and they need to be accountable for it—and if they do, they will reap the rewards of a more engaged, more loyal base of customers and employees.

If you'd like to talk with our consultants about designing a Corporate Social Accountability program at your company, drop us a line.

About the author
Adam Kleinberg

Adam Kleinberg is CEO and and a founding partner of Traction. He has written over 75 articles in publications like AdAge, Adweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Mashable and Digiday.

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