Brand Architecture & CSR

Doing CSR for one product may not contribute much to the overall business especially if the size of the product group targeted for CSR is not significant.

By Kartikeya Kompella 

There’s a lot of enthusiasm about supporting causes these days. Dabur’s ‘700 se 7 kadam’ has caught some attention while the evergreen P&G Shiksha campaign reiterates the importance of a cause campaign done well. But good cause campaigns require careful thought.

Multi-product/multi brand companies sometimes wonder which product/brand should they align their CSR with. Just like most other marketing questions there are no right or wrong answers to this, only some important aspects to be considered. Brand architecture is the branding approach used by a company and plays a role in how to look at your CSR.

Let’s look at how brand architecture can impact the choice of brands to be aligned with your CSR.

There are mainly two types of brand architecture followed by companies. The first is the house of brands approach followed by Unilever, P&G etc. where each product has a different brand name. Surf, Lux, Liril, Kissan, Dove are all different brands from Unilever.

The other approach is the ‘branded house’ approach where the brand is the company and all the products have the parent brand’s name. For example: All the products of GE have GE in their brand name such as GE Lighting. Likewise with HP, Samsung, Google to mention a few.

House of brands: In a house of brands approach where each product is a separate brand, each brand can support a cause. It’s useful for the company when each brand supports a cause because that ensures that each brand is individually strong and resonates with their audience. However given that CSR budgets are not infinite, it’s sometimes important to choose which brands to align with your CSR.

Brands that directly or indirectly address a social problem are the easiest picks for cause related branding programs. It often takes marketing creativity to identify an interesting and relevant cause even for such brands but once the cause is identified, it’s intuitive and sells itself.

Dabur’s Sani Fresh falls into this category. It don’t require very sophisticated marketing to explain the cause as the connection between brand and cause can be easily be established.  The fact that there are not too many great causes show that identifying such ideas is not easy.

The ‘star brands‘ of the BCG matrix (brands with large market share and high growth) are the ones that you should ideally align with your CSR. The CSR on these brands are likely to have the largest impact on your business while serving society.

Unilever has focused their CSR initiative Project Sunlight on Lifebuoy, Pureit and Domex that address hygiene, pure water and sanitation problems and all 3 brands seem to fall into the ‘star’ category of BCG.

Branded House: In the ‘branded house’ approach, all the brands/products are linked to the mother brand or umbrella brand name. In such a case there is more benefit in using CSR to strengthen the mother brand as that in turn supports all the products that come under this brand name. For example – the more GE invests in strengthening the GE brand name, the better it is for all the GE brands and the overall product portfolio.

Doing CSR for one product may not contribute much to the overall business especially if the size of the product group targeted for CSR is not significant. Again the principle of targeting ‘stars’ holds good however the ROI on money spent on an individual product may be lower than the impact of CSR on the mother brand.

If you are not able to align your CSR to the mother brand then it’s worth targeting an issue that resonates with a large constituency of your business. If women form the largest audience for the umbrella brand then focus your CSR on them or a cause that means something to them. The choice of the cause is related to the demographic of your brand’s audience.

Creating a connection: Irrespective of the brand architecture model followed by your company, it is important to see that the CSR resonates with your audience. It’s a good idea to see if the cause you are supporting can make a smart statement about the brand.

If you aren’t creating a ‘connect’ that influences consumers’ perception of your brand then you are only ticking the box that says your brand is responsible. Branding is about differentiation and not plain vanilla operations. Unimaginative CSR makes a statement – that your brand lacks inspiration. Consider that CSR that doesn’t influence the brand is a job half done.

[Kartikeya Kompella is a brand consultant with a specialization in CSR. He is the editor of the internationally acclaimed ‘The Definitive Book of Branding’ in which he has written about CSR & Branding. He is an international speaker on CSR & Branding and was responsible for India’s first study on consumer responses to CSR. Kartik is the author of two books on branding and has been involved with cause related branding and CSR for many years now. He is the founder of Purposeful Brands and would be interested in hearing your views of this article. He can be reached at]