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Can Corporate Social Responsibility save a brand that lacks authenticity?

Consumers aren’t stupid. From studiously checking ingredients to looking into a brand’s ethical practices, people are more switched on than ever.

Some companies think that a strong Corporate Social Responsibility programme can help to offset wrongdoings elsewhere. If you’re using unethical suppliers, a charity walk won’t undo that.

In truth, Corporate Social Responsibility is too often used as a plaster when wholesale surgery is required. Donating to charity or offering volunteering hours won’t undo the structural problems in your business. If people or the planet are suffering as a result of your brand, no amount of Corporate Social Responsibility will right that wrong.

Today we’re going to talk about why doing less bad isn’t enough. Let’s take a dive into why a brand without authenticity is bad for everyone — and how to change for the better.

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Consumers don’t buy token Corporate Social Responsibility campaigns

As we said, consumers are smarter than ever. Most of us have instant access to the web to check whether your brand’s claims are true. On top of that, we can check if you’re up to no good elsewhere in your operations.

Look at the Twitter feeds of big oil companies, for example. Every time they mention buzzwords like ‘responsible’ and ‘sustainability’, you can be sure there are people calling them out for hypocrisy. Investing a tiny proportion of funding into renewable energy doesn’t make up for decades of destructive oil drilling, deadly spills and taking advantage of indigenous peoples.

That’s an extreme example, but it tells a clear story — authenticity and ethics make a solid grounding to a company with long-term ambitions.

The importance of genuine brand experiences

As we’ve mentioned before, the trend amongst millennials is more ethical consumerism. 76% say they would check the authenticity of a brand’s social or environmental claim — a figure likely to grow among further generations.

So what does that mean for a business undertaking Corporate Social Responsibility?

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Well, it tells us that telling the truth is paramount. It also says that social and environmental causes are close to young people’s hearts. With fear around climate change growing, brands that take a stand are likely to reap dividends.

The consequences of getting caught out aren’t worth thinking about. Social media has made it easier to spread news — good and bad — around the globe. If your brand is caught lying about Corporate Social Responsibility or its ethical practices, consider it a matter of time before everyone knows.

Don’t get cancelled

Perhaps you’re aware of the term ‘cancelled’. It’s used online to describe — formerly reputable — individuals or organisations that take a big wrong step. Abusive behaviour in the workplace? Cancelled.

Companies that lie or exaggerate claims about their ethics can expect similar treatment. So if your brand is considering a big Corporate Social Responsibility drive to counteract misdoings elsewhere, expect a backlash any day now.

Roughly translated, being ‘cancelled’ equates to brand boycotts, constant social media barraging and a PR disaster that might be impossible to recover from.

Don’t risk it.

How to be more authentic and ethical

Authenticity in business is not something to strive towards — it should be the foundation of your brand.

Making decisions based on leaving the world a better place than when you found it is a good start.

If you run a company that is looking to improve its ethics and authenticity, the same principles apply. Honesty and vulnerability are not weaknesses — for many businesses, that kind of personal touch can, in fact, be beneficial.

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Let your audience know (through social media and email newsletters) that you’re looking to change for the better. Invite customers to lend their suggestions, perhaps through an incentivised campaign — a gift voucher for a randomly chosen participant, perhaps.

We have a few guiding principles, most notably the Triple Bottom Line. We consider every decision based on how it will affect People, the Planet and our Profits. That final point helps us factor in our own sustainability as well as that of the Earth — being an authentic company doesn’t mean sacrificing business success.

If you’re thinking of improving your brand’s impact on the world, we can help. You don’t have to go it alone, so drop us a line.

About the Author Rhys Herbert

Rhys is Conscious Creatives' resident writer and photographer. His work has been published in various online publications, and he was recently chosen to update a bestselling book on SEO. He continues to seek new and interesting angles for his photography work, shooting his local streets on 35mm film.

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