Head to head: CSR for B2B marketers

Head to head: CSR for B2B marketers

Customers and society at large increasingly expect businesses to act in an ethical and transparent way. But how does the drive towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) impact the B2B sector? We ask two marketers how to align CSR with the needs of the business

Organisations are under increasing scrutiny from all sections of society. Firms that, for example, pollute the environment, are involved in cheap labour, or are seen to be paying less tax than they should, risk being shunned – not only by the public, but by other businesses as well.

The flipside of this trend is that companies who can demonstrate that they make a positive contribution are cast in a good light, and subsequently become a more attractive business proposition. Therefore, marketers at such firms have an opportunity to convert an ethical stance into a saleable attribute.

Use CSR to differentiate your brand

Given that more than half of the UK economy comprises businesses selling to other businesses, it’s hardly surprising that so many take ethics and social responsibility so seriously.

That’s something Francesca Brosan, founder/chairman of digital communications agency Omobono, has come to understand well. “It’s extremely hard for people to make choices between companies when they’re working out who to do business with,” she says.

“But, increasingly, people want to know about a company’s purpose and what they’re contributing. It’s the subtle things that make people want to work with a particular company.”

Management consultants Accenture – one of Brosan’s clients – has initiated an outreach programme that she believes helps to foster a wholesome image. “Accenture works with girls and underprivileged people who want to get into coding,” she said. “It’s about CSR being aligned with what the company actually does, rather than a bolt-on for PR purposes. I think that’s critical.”

Consider your supply chain

According to Brosan, firms that import components or have long supply chains need to be careful: “Many retailers and businesses don’t manufacture the products they sell. That means the supply chain must be validated.” This requires a high degree of vigilance in selecting your partners; anything less could leave your business exposed to negative publicity or accusations of hypocrisy from your customers.

Global agri-business firm Olam International, another Omobono client, is working to introduce CSR into the food supply chain by working with farmers. Brosan says the aim is to “make global agriculture sustainable and then sell it into large corporations”. This is an example of how engaging with CSR can provide a point of differentiation, particularly given the sensitivities around the margins offered by supermarkets to growers.

“Marketers shouldn’t just think about what is on trend,” says Brosan. “If companies simply go with the flow, they’ll be found out. You have to show commitment. For CSR within the supply chain, it’s about actively working towards environmental or societal solutions.”

Connect CSR with your interests

What about the marketers themselves? What type of CSR do they favour, and why? Graham Dodridge, CEO of B2B branding and marketing firm Silver, has turned his passion for photography into an outreach project. Through Snap Foundation, he invites young people from underprivileged backgrounds to get involved with educational photographic projects, so they can “express themselves through images of the world they are experiencing”.

Snap volunteers have taken part in trips around the world, while the charity has supported almost 250 children – from the UK to South Africa – and donated more than 50 cameras.

For the business, whose clients include KPMG and O2, there have been benefits, too. “Snap has had a clear, positive impact,” says Dodridge, “in ways such as attracting talent, enriching our new business conversations and broadening our business raison d’être from the ground up.”

Match the cause to the business

Any organisation looking to contribute to society through CSR, and reap business benefits in the process, should choose activities that resonate with its existing skills and knowledge base. For example, a technology company could consider donating unused computers to a community project, or share the coding expertise of its staff through one-to-one coaching. A web-design company could, likewise, offer to develop a site for a charity on a pro bono basis.

These resources are often out of reach of charities, and a skills partnership can not only make an impact, but may also boost satisfaction among participating staff.

This type of CSR activity can also expand the business’s network within the community, and raises its profile in the eyes of potential clients, partners and employees. Word of mouth and referrals can be lucrative tools in attracting new clients and talent; it comes down to the fact that the more audiences you can share your message with, the faster you can grow.

For marketers, the lessons are clear: CSR activity can make your business more attractive compared with your competitors, while offering a contribution to society, as long as any supply chain issues are identified. CSR engagement that fits with your business can even make your staff happier – while boosting your network and your profile.

To learn more about digital marketing for B2B organisations, attend CIM’s specialist training course.

Andrew Mourant
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