Match your message to your audience

Match your message to your audience

When trying to communicate responsible culture, your methods need to match the intended audience. 

Pop quiz! Has global poverty fallen by half, doubled or remained the same in the past 20 years?

If you said it had fallen by half you would be correct! You would also be part of a select group. Only 5% of Americans answered correctly.

Britons are no better. 71% of us think the world is getting worse and only 5% think it is improving. Yet, by many measures, the world is getting better and better.

Why do people think things are worse than they are?

It’s because they rely not on data, but on how easy it is to recall an example, says Swedish economic historian Johan Norberg in his brand new book Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future.

Bad stuff is simply more memorable. Disasters and tragedies make better headlines; “40m Ppanes landed safely last year” does not, he says.

It’s in this context of almost overwhelming negativity that marketers must try to explain how much their company cares. Perhaps it is no surprise that the public has grown increasingly sceptical about the motivations behind corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.

At the same time, grumpy consumers also really want organisations to demonstrate a purpose beyond profit and prove a business commitment to making the world a better place.

Or, as Theodore Roosevelt pointed out, no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

It’s not only good for customers, but good for business too. A 2015 study by Harvard Business Review and Ernst & Young showed that companies with a strong sense of purpose can transform and innovate better, as well as improve employee satisfaction.

But effective CSR requires more than a jazzy slogan. If you want to communicate your responsible culture, it needs to be at the very centre of what you do.

Unilever, which operates in more than 130 countries, has been a pioneer of corporate social responsibility. Many of Unilever’s brands represent themselves in the media in a slightly different way from the rest – they don’t just sell what they do, but what they are.

Unilever’s So Long Old World advertisement is a case in point. It shows people who have benefited from Unilever’s initiatives.

It claims that the washing brand Persil has helped 10 million children get an education, while cleaning bleach Domestos helped five million folks gain access to toilets.

The campaign, created by Ogilvy & Mather and David, was inspired by research that revealed 54% of consumers say their purchasing decisions were primarily influenced by sustainability.

Indeed, Unilever’s five biggest brands – Knorr, Dove, Persil, Lipton and Hellmann’s – are all sustainable and grew 30% faster than the rest of the business last year.

The key point may be this: Unilever did not build their corporate responsibility around issues that they cared about – they built it around issues their customers cared about, and then they put those issues at the very centre of everything those brands do.

Unilever are not the only ones. Heineken customers decided they wanted a beer that was 100% organic. In response, Heineken switched around its entire supply chain so that they could market a beer authentically, the way customers wanted it to be.

Of course, once you have made social responsibility the core of your offering, there’s no going back.

Cosmetics and skin care company The Body Shop famously promoted its business through social and environmental campaigns, and counted opposition to testing cosmetics on animals as a core value.

Then it was acquired by L’Oréal. Many observers questioned whether the company could maintain its ethical stance. They were right. The Body Shop received criticism for L’Oréal’s poor reputation associated with animal-tested cosmetic products.

It was opposite to the brand identity of The Body Shop. The company’s reputation with customers hit the skids and, arguably, has yet to recover.

The lesson seems pretty clear. Make sure your CSR strategy is integrated into the overall corporate strategy, but then don’t let go of it.

If you'd like to learn more about how to develop insightful communication strategies and plans, then check out our Marketing Communications Masterclass. This two-day course will help you to create customer profiles, and identify audience desires and needs.

Andy Pemberton Director Furthr Ltd
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