How you can use CSR as a marketing tool

Sponsorship and other corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities can be a great way to promote your business and help a cause at the same time. But just how effective is this, and how can you maximise the effectiveness of your outlay of money and time?

Small to medium sized businesses account for around 90% of businesses in operation worldwide and employ 50 percent to 60 percent of those in the workforce, according to the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. Given that a significant portion of the economy is made up of SMEs, it is no wonder that their CSR activities can have a big impact on social welfare locally and globally.

The centre also said that the concept of CSR is just as valid for small companies as for large companies, and that while many small to medium enterprises carry out CSR activities, they don't refer to them as this. These activities may include staffing initiatives, waste and resource minimisation and recycling and a focus on health and safety issues, which are a normal part of business, but can be used to market the company and increase brand awareness and reputation.

But to University of Queensland PhD researcher Christilene Du Plessis, this can sometimes backfire when these good intentions could see customers and your staff involved in the campaign suffer from compassion fatigue.

Corporate social responsibility is the fastest-growing sector in sponsorship, and in relation to marketing can include initiatives such as promoting the company's green or sustainability credentials, producing pink products to support breast cancer research, or partnering with a charity to assist with donations and support.

"Research has shown that people are more likely to donate to an appeal that uses no images, rather than an appeal that uses either images of malnourished children or smiling chubby children who've benefited from donations. That could be a sign that people are tired of this type of marketing," Ms Du Plessis said.

So how do you launch the right marketing strategy?

Dun &Bradstreet reported in its whitepaper Up the ante- Taking marketing to new heights, that your marketing activities do have a significant and measureable impact. But the first key step in carrying out a successful marketing campaign is developing a deep understanding of your customers.

However, the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility has found that many of the tools and information available for doing this are specialised for larger businesses and corporations.

Despite this, small business owners can still get plenty of assistance and information to help develop an understanding of your customers and match this with your CSR activities and a successful marketing strategy.

Industry associations, your local chamber or commerce or fellow small business owners can provide you with relevant information as well as hints and tips for what CSR and marketing activities could be right for you.

There are a number of successful community, environmental, and local networking initiatives that you can implement in your business. These CSR activites include supporting local schools or sports teams, employing local staff, donating some of your profit to charity, and work experience placements.

Your business can and should also get involved in local business associations, business awards, industry best practise programs, employing those from minority or disadvantaged groups, and sending employees along to community events.

If you decide to head down the green marketing path, you can also implement waste minimisation and recycling schemes or use renewable power.

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