Concern for the environment has heightened in recent years and more importantly corporate social responsibility has become a given for business leaders and marketers in the current business landscape.
Organizations and marketers are forced to find unique opportunities to develop competitive advantages based on environmental activities embedded into a larger corporate social responsibility (CSR) framework. CSR and environmental concern, when done well, can serve society and be profitable.
Philip Kotler, one of the legendary figures in marketing provides a great quote about the importance of corporate social responsibility.
“Over the past 60 years, marketing has moved from being product-centric (Marketing 1.0) to being consumer-centric (Marketing 2.0). Today we see marketing as transforming once again in response to the new dynamics in the environment. We see companies expanding their focus from products to consumers to humankind issues. Marketing 3.0 is the stage when companies shift from consumer-centricity to human-centricity and where profitability is balanced with corporate responsibility.”
Understanding the Millennial generation’s significance provides an important consideration that organizations are forced to include in their strategy or risk becoming obsolete. Strategic planning, branding, and integrated marketing communications (IMC) play a critical role in strategizing and executing CSR and demonstrating an authentic concern for the environment and influence profitability.
The Millennial generation represents the largest generation at approximately 80 million people with over $170 billion in purchasing power. The millennial generation with its significant influence is shaping the way that brands send messages, forcing businesses to change or suffer the consequences.
The Millennial generation displays characteristics including altruism and a predisposition to support social and environmental causes. As a result, Millennials purchase and support companies with environmentally and socially responsible products (brands).
A critical statistic for marketers is the fact 75% of Millennials donate to charity and 60% volunteer for a worthy cause.
The Millennial generation coming of age is one of the most important components influencing marketing and the messages brands send. The Millennial generation with its demonstration of purchasing power and brand support for companies that are environmentally conscious has caused a seismic shift in business.
The role of ethics, environmental concern, and social responsibility provide critical components of an organization’s strategic planning. The concept of business serving society and at the same time balancing the financial interest of stockholders plays an important role in marketing a business in the current environment.
The shift in business thinking by leadership from only considering stockholders’ interests to the consideration of each stakeholder reflects an important change based on increases in environmentalism, consumer spending power, and globalization.
As a response, leadership must incorporate ethics, environmental initiatives, and social responsibility into strategic planning to achieve sustainability and economic success.
The stakeholder approach now used by most companies in the strategic planning phase provides a method to address environmental issues and social responsibility.
The stakeholder approach consists of:
Attempting to infuse concern for the environment and social causes into its strategic planning and marketing program poses a challenge to any business in the current business environment.
Understanding how to market to the millennial generation, a well-developed and executed brand strategy, and an IMC approach provides the means to reach organizational goals and achieve long-term success.
The process of branding and creating a brand strategy forms a critical component to CSR and authentic concern for the environment while remaining focused on profitability. There are several organizations that have been started with corporate social responsibility as an essential or primary strategic element that are extremely successful. The organizations that come to mind include:
Consider the brand image and brand messages these organizations are sending to the marketplace and the imagery these brands create. Brand image and brand messages energize an organization’s brand focused on authenticity, shared values, and quality products or services.
Companies that are firmly focused on these key elements can create an effective brand strategy that delivers results. Corporate decisions and corporate social responsibility communicate and demonstrate authenticity.
A company can leverage authenticity and gain a following based on influencers and end user consumers with similar shared values. Marketing research can help provide answers to shared values and important issues that are relevant to your target audience.
The millennial generation coming of age is one of the most important components influencing marketing and the messages brands send. Organizations should consider the following millennial facts:
The millennial generation displays characteristics including altruism and a predisposition to support social and environmental causes they care about (Ford, Jenkins, & Oliver, 2012). As a result, Millennials purchase and support companies with environmentally and socially responsible products (brands).
The IMC strategy complements the brand strategy by coordinating and managing marketing communications providing consistent messaging promoting collaboration amongst all stakeholders.
Companies must infuse their brand with CSR and environmentally responsible practices into the core of their business strategy using an effective branding strategy broadcast using an IMC approach. As a result, marketing strategy provides a core element of the business strategy to promote a company as an ethical entity with genuine concern for social issues and the environment.
Marketers must create authentic messages that can be supported with actions regarding the environment and social issues or risk suffering the consequences of the millennial consumer.
Traditional media methods to reach consumers have changed with media sources, such as the Internet and social media adding complexity to the marketing mix. Traditional media, Internet, and social media provide opportunities to reach consumers in various different ways and brand messages can get lost or inconsistent across the different media options.
It is critical for organizations to use IMC focused on a consistent brand message across all media channels. IMC effectively reaches consumers with the intended message stimulating awareness, creating trial usage, and ultimately achieving brand loyalty for the products or services of an organization.
Through an effective IMC approach, a company can create a strong brand based on a consistent message strategy projecting a unified voice. Consistent messaging avoids confusion, reinforces the brand with consumers over time, and builds greater trust and awareness making an organization’s products or services top of mind when it comes time to purchase.
Companies like General Motors and Ford have had to change significantly over the last six years. It is not enough to provide vehicles that are environmentally conscious, but the millennial generation demands a more significant effort from a brand. GM and Ford have implemented programs across their entire supply chain supporting environmental and social initiatives.
GM and Ford now use a sustainability report a common marketing tool in business to provide information regarding the environmental and social practices of the company. The sustainability report used by many companies across all industries provides evidence of the changing nature of business and marketing influenced by the millennial generation.
Starbucks provides a unique way to achieve economic results combined with social and environmental responsibility by partnering with Conservation International (CI). CI and Starbucks developed social and environmental standards for coffee farmers forming an integral part of Starbuck’s strategic planning.
Starbuck’s strategic plan provides a significant corporate-wide emphasis on environmental concerns and social responsibility. This strategy increases coffee quality, provides sustainability technology, increases farmers profitability, land conservation, and provides additional revenue streams.
CI and Starbucks implemented a system of rewards for coffee farmers who observe the environmental and social practices (C.A.F.E. Practices). The Association of Kilimanjaro Specialty Coffee Growers is an 8,000 member strong group of coffee growers in Tanzania that receives Starbuck’s support because they are C.A.F.E. certified.
Starbucks financing of the farmers provides improved profitability for the members of the association, and the money is used to protect the land surrounding the coffee farms.
Protecting the landscapes by preserving forests and replanting trees allows Starbucks and the association to become eligible for carbon credits. The carbon credits industry is a growth industry and through Starbucks financing both the company and the C.A.F.E certified growers can profit from this $70 billion dollar industry.
Starbucks is the worldwide largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified Coffee and has demonstrated leadership with its social responsibility and environmental programs. Starbuck’s as part of its IMC uses the Fair Trade Certified Coffee certification on all its packaged coffee.
The company creates an awareness of the Fair Trade Coffee organization and uses it to market the company as a company that is socially and environmentally responsible. Starbuck’s has found a way to infuse social responsibility and environmental concern in its strategic plan, be a leader for positive change, and ultimately make a profit.
A concern for the environment and serving humanity has never been as popular as it is now. The main driver of this movement in society and business is the millennial generation.
Corporate social responsibility is a fundamental element for successful organizations in the current business environment. As Philip Kotler details, marketing is in the process of moving from consumer-centric to human-centric, balancing profitability with corporate social responsibility.
Several organizations are finding new and unique ways to balance CSR and environmental concern, providing a playbook of how to serve society and be profitable.