Around this time of year, two phenomena occur: First, brands cash in on the holidays as shoppers spend upwards of $1.1 trillion during this annual sales spike; second, organizations see an uptick in charitable giving and activity as consumers use the season to reflect upon and act on their values. Many companies also use this time to highlight their philanthropic efforts or the ways they are supporting social good.
Giving Tuesday is often an opportunity for brands to increase issue awareness through tactics like donation matching or employee engagement, but, as a growing number of consumers are issue-based shoppers, companies must ensure their holiday plans are part of an authentic corporate social responsibility strategy.
As any strategy does, CSR requires that an organization take a big picture view of their values and goals. To that end, three rules can help guide planning for maximum social impact, both during the holiday season and beyond.
Lead with Your Value Add
Insofar as a company provides a service or a product, it already enjoys an area of expertise or market niche. That niche is the first place to find inspiration for a CSR strategy. Last Giving Tuesday, mattress company Casper donated mattresses and bedding to organizations helping families in need. Other companies, like Warby Parker and Bombas, employ a buy one-give one approach that they boost with sales around the holidays. While these products all serve completely different needs, they have one important thing in common: They are part of a longer term strategy to link corporate citizenship to their raison d’etre. The connection between these companies’ products and giveback is an easy one for consumers to understand — and for those who care, might be a determining factor in which brand to buy.
Consider Your Community
Many brands focus on targeted consumer bases, others might serve specific geographical areas and others still enjoy supply chains that span the globe. Whoever the audience, approaching stakeholders as a community can help maximize corporate citizenship. For example, The North Face’s Explore fund, which supports conservation efforts, clearly links to an issue their consumers care about. Fair-trade coffee and chocolate brands incorporate a focus on labor and human rights in their operations to improve conditions in notoriously challenging industries. Because of social media, getting to know a brand’s stakeholders is easier than ever before — applying this knowledge of their values to a CSR approach is simply smart strategy.
Leave Politics Out
While some brands have taken a high-stakes approach to activism, most find success focusing their social good work in areas that bring together as opposed to divide. Research shows that support for veterans is the least politically risky, while abortion and political campaigns are among the most. As a Harvard case study pointed out earlier this year, a winning approach for brands is to encourage political engagement, perhaps through voting, but not support for a specific political candidate or policy. Companies may be associated with more liberal or conservative ideals, but political activism based on that identity risks alienating not only consumers, but employees as well.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but as a company considers its CSR strategy, it must be true to its brand identity and values. Being outspoken on progressive or conservative issues might be part of that brand identity, but a thoughtful plan will appreciate how stakeholders will react. No matter the specific approach, a strategy based on who a company is and what it does will drive meaningful results on any day of the year.
Lindsay Singleton is senior vice president at ROKK Solutions, where she leads policy consulting and communications strategy efforts; she lived and worked in Latin America for over a decade on behalf of the United States government and private sector and served as a foreign service officer in Venezuela from 2010-2013.
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