Corporate social responsibility and brand marketing


(Written by Zhang Yiwen)

With new trends in marketing and brand competition, it is increasingly important for enterprises to shoulder social responsibilities. As a way to improve brand image and corporate competitiveness, more and more enterprises have begun to publish annual corporate social responsibility reports and actively carry out charity activities in hopes of influencing government, investors, consumers and public opinion. Some companies have gone even further by carrying out commercial activities in the name of corporate social responsibility. How can companies appropriately integrate social responsibilities with brand marketing?

I. Set a goal and create a branding strategy compatible with social responsibility

Social welfare undertakings and charity are important parts of corporate social responsibility, but it would be mistaken to assume charity and social welfare are the only ways for enterprises to perform their corporate social responsibility. In fact, corporate social responsibility can be reflected in the entire process of an enterprise’s production and business operations. In planning strategies for enterprises and brand marketing, full consideration should be given to social responsibility. Companies should develop brand strategies by understanding their products and services and catering to their target market and target consumers. Michael Porter said that only through assuming social responsibility strategically, could companies have the maximum social influence and reap the maximum business benefits. The most important task in performing corporate social responsibility is to find shared value between business operation activities and social factors in the competitive environment.

A strategic outlook on corporate social responsibility can help maximize an enterprise or brand’s competitive edge. It helps harmonize enterprises with society and creates codependency. It also sets a clear goal for social responsibility and brand marketing. Through performing social responsibilities in competitive markets, companies can generate positive social influence and improve the long-term competitiveness of their brands.

More importantly, strategic corporate social responsibility undertakings are a chance to create shared value, not simply activities for damage control or public relations. This is a new idea that could fundamentally change the orientation and development of product design and brand strategy.

Case: Toyota’s branding strategy and environmental protection

The launch of Toyota’s Prius hybrid car and its marketing activities were part of an overall marketing strategy that focused on environmental protection. When Toyota first launched the new model, it stressed its advantage in reducing fuel consumption and cutting emissions. After six months of research and investigation, Toyota launched the biggest ever branding activity in the United States. The integrated marketing and branding activity, named “Why not?”, utilized television, print media and new media, such as CNN’s website, to publish advertisements and embed “Why not?” webpages. Toyota also chose to sponsor programs like Nature on PBS. Its branding and promotion activities showed Toyota’s high sense of responsibility for United States environment and society. These activities helped US consumers understand Toyota’s environmentally friendly brand.

II. Utilize different methods and base branding strategy on social responsibility

In general, there are four basic methods of brand marketing based on social responsibility(1):

1. Publicity of welfare undertakings

Enterprises help promote understanding about and attention to some particular social welfare undertakings by providing funding, non-cash donations or other resources. They can also take part in donation activities or provide support for recruiting volunteers for welfare undertakings.

Case: Ford Motors’ community-based environmental innovation

Ford set up the Ford Motors Environmental Award to promote the concept of “building and sharing our green, harmonious land”. The award targeted communities and was designed to improve environmental protection awareness through grassroots efforts. It specially created “small sum assistance for community environmental protection” to encourage innovation plans for community-based environmental protection. It also provided financial assistance to environmental protection groups amongst college students, encouraging them to go to communities to promote environmental protection knowledge and carry out environmental protection activities. Through these activities, community residents could better understand and gain knowledge about environmental protection. Ford’s branding goal was also achieved by performing its social responsibility.

2. Marketing related to welfare undertakings

Enterprises promise to make donations for a particular welfare undertaking, or to donate a certain percentage of their revenues.

Case: China Merchants Bank’s “Red China Plan”

In December 2007, CMB launched the “building playgrounds for primary schools in China” charity project. The bank successfully promoted its “welfare-oriented operation” through these charity activities. CMB cooperated with the China Youth Development Foundation to establish the “Project Hope – CMB Special Sports Charity Fund”. The project donated 1 yuan for every credit card application and 0.01 yuan for each credit card transaction into the special fund. It raised funds to provide complete sets of sports equipment for 610 Hope Primary Schools and built playgrounds for them.

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