The trend towards combining marketing and CSI

October 24, 2020 | Posted By [dot]GOOD

Various research surveys have shown that South Africans are placing more and more value on the good that companies do. Marketing strategies that don’t take this into account are likely to fail. Has the time come to merge marketing and CSI departments?

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB) notes that “90% [of respondents] believe stakeholders, not just shareholders, are critical to a company’s long-term success; and more than 70% believe business can increase profit while also improving social and environmental conditions. These trends, along with the effects of the global pandemic, are calling for a redesign of the social contract in real time.”

In August 2020, the ETB released a special report, “Brand Trust in 2020 – South Africa”, which showed that 92% of South African respondents wanted brands to “shift money and resources to producing products that help people meet pandemic-related challenges”. Sixty-five percent said, “Our country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges we face.”

An 11-market survey of 12 000 respondents (in South Africa, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US) found that trust is now very important for first-time purchase and loyalty.

Brand trust was more important in South Africa than any of the other markets, and the fourth most important consideration after price, brand reputation and accessibility.

The 2018 CSI Index by Corporate Social Responsibility News South Africa (CSRNEWSSA) noted that the majority of respondents – 66% – entrust the entire CSI portfolio to one person… “[Individuals are] having to allocate funds, monitor their use and communicate their results to the general public. It is a tall order,” noted Simphiwe Mtetwa, editor-in-chief of CSRNEWSSA in The South African CSI Industry Report (the CSI Index) Reveals that South African Companies are not Fully Optimising the Potential of their CSI.

While the survey was sent to CEOs, academics, senior management, CSI practitioners and entrepreneurs in large or medium-sized enterprises, parastatals and NGOs, 43% of respondents work in the NGO sector. The remaining respondents were split between funders and PR companies.

Adding weight to the question of whether it would make more sense to leverage marketing departments in social-responsibility projects is the fact that 80% of respondents said they relied almost entirely on their individual organisation’s website to advertise their programmes and projects.

The vital role that NGOs and their funding partners play is buried deep on a website that may be outdated and is frequently user-unfriendly, wrote Mtetwa. “To get maximum return on their investments, both funders and NGOs need to know how to market and communicate their CSI work. Community awareness fosters goodwill, builds a sense of trust and strengthens the bond between companies and their markets. For NGOs, getting a consistent message out fulfils the same function, raising public awareness and esteem for the work done.”

Clearly, a combined marketing-CSI approach will have far greater impact in terms of social good and bottom line. It is also a far more sustainable approach.

As we all now know, the Covid-19 crisis is so much more than a pandemic, it is also an economic crisis. It has changed the way we work, live, learn and shop, and even how we show love to friends (no more hugs for a while). Consumers are devouring more media than ever before. The period of lockdown revealed how interconnected we are, and has raised awareness of the yawning disparities between and within our communities. Citizens, NGOs and brands have risen to the occasion and rolled out life-saving initiatives. But consumers are now demanding to know what has been done.

A tiny team of hard-working CSI professionals operating in a silo separate from marketing is no longer enough. A cause-marketing strategy has never been more imperative. It is time to conflate these departments and pass every marketing message through the “for good” filter.