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Firms Must Close CSR Gap to Grow Business

From Environmental Leader, Published 03 January 2014

​Companies that close the gap between consumer expectations and perceptions of their corporate social responsibility work can positively transform their brand, according to Craig Bida, executive vice president of cause branding and nonprofit marketing for Cone Communications.

The public relations and marketing executive says closing the CSR gap — that gulf between what consumers think companies should do and what they think they actually do — is a valuable sustainable strategy worth pursuing.

Cone Communications research found 93 percent of US consumers expect companies to do more than just make money, but only 16 percent believe these companies have actually made a positive impact. Bida recommends to that to effectively close the CSR gap, management must first embrace consumer skepticism.

He suggests beginning by identifying key stakeholders, researching their needs, attitudes and barriers to belief. This step will allow companies to measure the extent of the CSR gap that exists for the brand or business. Once the gap has been assessed, companies should focus on a single issue that is relevant to their target audience and business to deliver the most meaningful impact.

Bida also recommends companies partner with leading nonprofits that will push for real outcomes and measure and report the results. For example, P&G’s Pampers brand had focused on maternal/newborn tetanus for decades, but it wasn’t until it partnered with UNICEF that the efforts began paying off, Bida says. Since 2006, Pampers brand has grown while funding more than 300 million vaccines and helping to eliminate maternal/newborn tetanus in eight countries.

Finally, Bida recommends companies improve how they share their CSR efforts with the public and emphasizes that transparency and authenticity is the best approach. Some 85 percent of consumers surveyed by Cone Communications say it’s OK if companies aren’t perfect as long as they’re honest.

The 2013 Global CSR RepTrack 100 report, released in October, found 73 percent of global consumers are willing to recommend companies that are perceived to be delivering on their CSR programs. While consumer support for companies perceived to be socially responsible is strong, however, the number of companies believed to be actually delivering on their CSR programs dropped from 12 in 2012 to only five in the 2013 study.