For all the talk about CSR, the concept is still failing to capture the imaginations of branding and communications professionals. What’s needed is more talk about relationships, and less about acronyms, argues the communications expert, Rob Cameron.
Is CSR getting on the radar screen of communications and branding teams?
Slowly. But there’s a string of things that brand people are focused on and, let’s face it, pricing and performance are a lot higher on that list than corporate responsibility. I heard a phrase recently which suggested that the CSR debate is actually about ‘corporate social respectability’ – about putting a gloss on not very much change.
How can you get CSR on the brand people’s list?
Stop talking about ‘CSR’ for a start. Instead, we need to begin discussing the material issues that are affecting companies and their stakeholders, and addressing them properly. It requires talking to branding people about the issues hidden within the term ‘CSR’, like diversity and poverty and relationships. If they recognise the importance of these issues in the widest sense, then they’re going to be more inclined toward the drive for more responsible products and services, and market them so.
How do you show branding experts the importance of responsibility issues?
You need to couch it in the language of reputation, risk and reward, which are all important to brand people. Then you begin to see how these things knit together with corporate responsibility. The marketing for the Toyota Prius is a good example of where things need to go. Its positioning is, “this is a very good car, with great handling, great performance, great ride, great everything. And great environment credentials as well.” It’s not “great environmental credentials, and you have to make a compromise on price and performance.” It’s what I call the ‘oh-by-the-way’ approach to marketing.
What’s the best way to engage branding experts?
Think where true responsibility begins. It starts with good relationships. This is essential for branding people to get if CSR is going to get into mainstream communications. The big brands have got to see themselves in a true relationship of equals. So it’s about ‘us’, rather than about ‘our brand’ and about ‘you’ as a consumer. It’s about the relationship between ‘us’ the brand and ‘you’ the consumer, and what ‘we’ mean together. You can see that Sony, with its advertising slogan ‘You make it a Sony’, is beginning to think along these relational lines.
Where do you see CSR and branding going in the years to come?
There’s a theory emerging from some thinkers that in the future brands will see causes and brands being conceived together. With the cause and brand integrally linked from the outset, you’ll avoid the problem that cause-related marketing has as being seen as an additional thing. To make this happen, it’ll require individuals in branding and communications to ask how they genuinely see their relationships and
how those relationships can be improved. Any external change has to start with this kind of personal transformation.
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 73 – January, 2004
Rob Cameron is chairman of Flag, one of the UK?s leading communication agencies, specialising in communicating corporate responsibility issues. Flag?s work includes environmental and CSR reports, and internal communication
programmes to raise awareness and change practice.
Rob has managed CSR communications for, among others, Agilent Technologies, Ford Motor Company, Barclays Bank, Prudential, Business in the Community and Eni.
Rob is a Fellow of the RSA, a shadow director of AccountAbility, a director of Cambridge-based Menagerie Theatre Productions. He also sits on the BitC regional leadership team and on the regional Advisory Board for Arts & Business. He is married with a daughter and lives in Cambridge, UK.