Picture this. You’re at a Gourmerican burger joint chomping a cheeseburger, when an outspoken vegan friend starts preaching that you’re killing the planet. Last week, that same vegan downed a pricey glass of pinot before their flight to a far-flung destination, armed with their strongest mossie repellant and first aid kit. Anything amiss?
The Marketing Society defines marketing’s primary role as follows: “To create sustainable growth by understanding, anticipating and satisfying customer need”. It’s a definition that is clear, concise, purposeful and practical.
Yet in our ongoing quest to deliver bottom-line results, many marketers tend to overlook the very fundamental aspect of sustainable growth. This is evident in the manner in which some of us pursue sales at the expense of profits or how we sometimes wilfully dilute customer value only to sacrifice long-term returns.
We invest serious resources to probe, sense and respond to customer needs, yet we disregard the fact that well-being is just as much a consumer need. Not addressing it could potentially drive down demand. Well-being goes beyond the individual to the community and all the way to the planet that we inhabit.
If we overlay this with the fact that concern for a consumer’s well-being is one manifestation of corporate social responsibility (CSR), it becomes apparent that marketers have a reason to be actively engaged in CSR.
Earlier this year, the Australian Marketing Institute (AMI) released a whitepaper titled <i>The Good, the Generous and the Galvanic: Marketing’s Role in Social Responsibility</i> as part of its thought leadership series. The paper takes an offbeat approach to exploring how the marketing function could play a more proactive role in finding the elusive balance between profits and purpose.
The fundamental premise of the AMI paper is that some level of inherent self-interest is inevitable if businesses are to be continually committed to being more socially responsible.
The paper includes a three-tier framework labelled ‘The Good, the Generous and the Galvanic’ (G3) to examine a range of ways in which enlightened marketers can make a positive difference to an organisation’s performance across the triple bottom line.
At a very basic level, the ‘good’ represents a marketer’s intrinsic ability to more responsibly govern the four Ps (that is, how a product is sourced/made, how its price is managed, how distribution is handled and how promotion is organised), areas where marketers could be expected to exercise direct influence.
‘Generous’ relates to corporate giving and includes philanthropy, cause-related marketing and sponsorship of socially relevant programs. Often, these decisions happen in isolation of broader organisational considerations, such as alignment with business priorities, consumer values and shareholder reactions. Marketing has the ability to bridge this chasm.
‘Galvanic’ incorporates the emerging concept of shared value, which creates an opportunity for organisations to embrace social enterprise as an integral part of the operating model so that incremental value is simultaneously created for the business as well as the disadvantaged community it targets. Marketers can identify synergies, facilitate partnerships, establish communication channels and more.
The G3 framework does not suggest that the three tiers are hierarchical in any way. In fact, an organisation could engage in any one (or more) of the tiers that are appropriate to its particular circumstance depending on its product/service offering, customer segments, supply chain dynamics and the available potential to do social, ethical or environmental good.
The very phrase ‘corporate social responsibility’ may unwittingly suggest that social is the responsibility of someone else in corporate and, hence, is not owned by any specific function. Drawing from research undertaken by the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, the paper identifies strategy formulation and stakeholder communication as being fundamental to driving the social responsibility agenda within organisations.
Given that marketing is intimately associated with both of these tasks, G3 provides marketers with a springboard to launch a paradigm shift in how CSR is managed:
“Marketing is in a unique position to take an outside-in view of a business whether undertaking an environment scan, performing a SWOT analysis, envisioning alternative scenarios, reviewing the competitive landscape or monitoring consumer trends and market opinions. Marketers are also required to develop communication strategies and tactics targeted at diverse stakeholders that require an insight into their values, attitudes, motivations, beliefs and behaviour.”
The paper also provides some practical tips on how marketing decisions can be better aligned with preferences of socially conscious consumers, citing research from a six-nation choice experiment that clearly illustrates the opportunity for such a linkage.
At a time when marketers are grappling with newer technologies, bigger data, greater accountability and more savvy consumers, social responsibility might seem like an unnecessary burden and distraction.
“But think of the time and effort we could save if we did not have to respond reactively to reputational damage…because of something we did that was socially, environmentally or ethically less desirable,” the paper argues.
If CSR is to be better aligned with business strategy, gain wider acceptance and reflect true brand purpose, marketing is in the best position to make it happen.
Tough economic conditions and challenging markets can often dampen an organisation’s commitment to CSR. If marketing is able to demonstrate how profits can be simultaneously pursued alongside purpose, they could grow in stature within the c-suite. There has never been a more opportune time.
About the author
Mahesh Enjeti, a seasoned marketer and a passionate brand builder, is the managing director of SAI Marketing Counsel, a marketing strategy practice based in Sydney. Since earning an honours degree in physics and an MBA in finance and marketing, he has spent nearly four decades working across diverse industries, from beverages to technology, consumer durables to tourism, and clothing to consulting.
Enjeti is an adjunct at the Sydney Graduate School of Management. He has been associated with the Australian Marketing Institute as a state councillor and is a member of the Marketing Excellence Awards judging panel and now serves on its national board. He is also a CPA and a fellow of the Institute.
This article originally appeared in the CMO Council’s Magnified enewsletter, October 2014.
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