In the past, corporate social responsibility (CSI) initiatives were seen as a nicety – the “right” thing for businesses to do. They were also often seen as a way to draw positive media attention to a brand and many times, the sustainability and real impact of these projects was questionable.

Before socio-economic development was included as a section on the broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) scorecard, there was no regulatory pressure for businesses to give back to the communities in which they operate. They could donate clothing to local shelters, upskill workers in their industry or launch a soccer team with underprivileged children – whatever appealed to them at the time. Today CSI is a formal and recognised part of the corporate landscape in our country… but is it having a real impact on businesses, and more importantly, the people of South Africa?

Which type of CSI activities influence brand value?
A research paper entitled The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Brand Value: An Empirical Study of Top 100 Global Brands in The International Journal of Business and Social Science set out to test whether and which type of CSI activities influence the brand value of multinational corporations by collecting data from Inter brand, Bloomberg and Advertising Age. The researchers found partial evidence that CSI activities helped to create brand value for the companies, but that not all activities are equally effective.

“For example, all CSI activities in the governance domain show a significant effect while any activities in the environmental domain do not have a significant impact. On the other hand, substantive CSI activities effectively increase the brand value of the firm while perfunctory actions do not have significant impact,” said the researchers.

CSI should align with your authentic brand story
Social media specialist Simon Mainwaring says a company should figure out who their brand is, not what it does, when planning a CSI project. “If a brand genuinely wants to make a social contribution, it should start with who they are, not what they do. For only when a brand has defined itself and its core values, can it identify causes or social responsibility initiatives that are in alignment with its authentic brand story,” says Simon.

Humanising your brand is essential because people want to know that there are real people behind a brand, not just a corporation built of machines. When it comes to choosing a cause, it’s important to go with what represents your brand as opposed to what’s trendy.

“Some trending areas that companies engaging in CSI are talking about are climate change, social justice and brand transparency. These are all great and cover a wide range of topics and movements, but they may not be in line with the identity of your brand. We can’t be the leader in every movement, so rather than just picking what is trendy, it’s important to choose what is right for your brand. Therefore take your time and do your research,” says Reportbrain.com.

Resonating with today’s consumers
Public trust can be a key differentiator in the built environment. Today’s consumers have distinct values, habits and fears tied to their earning and spending habits. They’re more risk-averse and less likely to spend money unnecessarily, which means that brands need to work harder to connect with their target audience on an emotional level.

In the 2015 Nielson Global Corporate Sustainability Report, results showed that 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. People want the businesses they buy from to practise business ethically and sustainably. Being actively invested in the betterment of society, prioritising making an impact and being open and honest about your CSI efforts goes far beyond building a more sustainable business – it extends to building a more sustainable South Africa.

Thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.trialogue.co.za, www.iibssnet.com, www.reportbrain.com and www.forbes.com for some of the information contained in this article.

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