The Branding of CSR by Kartikeya Kompella

We find many companies spending several crores of money on CSR initiatives yet their efforts go unrecognised. This is often the direct result of a poorly thought out CSR initiative or poor communication.

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By Kartikeya Kompella

I recently received a call from an ex-colleague who asked me my views on the branding of CSR. It’s an important topic that’s close to my heart and so I needed no more prompting.

I have no doubt that CSR should be aligned with a brand as the brand is the central driving force of an organization. This alignment also ensures that the CSR initiatives work to help both society and the brand. However mere alignment of CSR with the brand is not enough. The impact of the CSR on the brand is maximised only when your CSR connects with stakeholders.

These days there are many lists of how much different companies are spending on CSR. We find many companies spending several crores of money on CSR initiatives yet their efforts go unrecognised. This is often the direct result of a poorly thought out CSR initiative or poor communication.

Sometimes the lack of a CSR strategy makes leaves stakeholders wondering what the relevance of their CSR is. For example: Aircel’s extremely powerful ‘Save The Tigers’ campaign touched a chord with millions of Indians. The same campaign left many bemused as to what the connection with the brand was. CSR initiatives work best when the connection between the brand and CSR is intuitive.

This is because we instinctively try to see patterns, draw connections and make sense of what others are doing. It’s our way of trying to understand the world. When you see a telecom company talking about tigers, you wonder what’s the connection.

When British Telecom chose the cause of reducing the communication gap between parents and their teenage children so as to keep the youngsters from going down a bad road, it was easy to understand why they were doing it. A telecom company promoting communication was understandable and more calls meant more revenue.

Sometimes lack of communication leaves stakeholders unaware of what the brand is doing. Understandably they cannot be moved or inspired by a program that they do not know exists. There are many CSR programs that are not branded well or are just communicated badly.

The concept of stakeholders is that they have a ‘stake’ in the company whether literally or figuratively. If one chooses to ignore them when it comes to matters pertaining to the spirit and values of the company it clearly makes a statement as to how the company views them.

When it comes to evaluating the Branding of your CSR there are 5 aspects that one should consider.

  1. Is your CSR relevant to your brand?
  2. Are your stakeholders aware of your CSR?
  3. Is your CSR inclusive?
  4. Does it involve and engage your stakeholders?
  5. Has it impacted the stature of the brand?

Hindustan Unilever’s ‘Project Sunlight’ is a great example of CSR that’s aligned with their brands. The right choice of CSR makes a huge difference in terms of making it work for the brand. ‘Project Sunlight’ has not stopped at a great brand connect but has become a truly inclusive well communicated program that has given HUL tremendous stature.

Mahindra ‘Rise’ is another example of a CSR initiative that is not only relevant but also lifts the stature of the Mahindra Group through its smart branding. The purpose of ‘Rise’ is noble and relevant across most of the Mahindra businesses. But Mahindra has a mix of interesting causes under the banner of Rise. Their causes range from innovation in mobility to solar energy programs.

The stature that HUL and Mahindra’s CSR has earned them is not from slick advertising but from well-thought out CSR expressed well. It’s no surprise that these companies are so successful given the way they approach everything in such a strategic and professional manner. Hopefully other companies are watching and learning from their best practices.

About The Author: Kartikeya Kompella is the editor of the internationally acclaimed book ‘The Definitive Book of Branding’ in which he has written about CSR & Branding. He is more recently the editor of ‘The Brand Challenge’. Kartik is the author of ‘Building Brands Building Meaning’ and ‘Applying the Branding Iron’. He is the founder of Purposeful Brands and would be interested in hearing your views. He can be reached at kartik@purposefulbrands.in

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