CONE Communications

From Corporate Social Responsibility to Cause Marketing Extraordinaires

Partner Spotlight: Cone Communications

An interview with Lindsey Snow and Devika Narayan of CONE Communications

We are thrilled to be partnering with Cone Communications this week to highlight the company and how they Do Good in the world.  First, let us introduce you to Lindsey Snow (LS) and Devika Narayan (DN). Lindsey is a Senior Account Executive and works on an array of corporate social responsibility projects which help build impactful and meaningful results for corporate and nonprofit clients.  Devika is an Account Supervisor over CSR Strategy. She has supported the strategic planning and development of award winning programs for Fortune 500 companies including UPS, Xylem, Mars, Johnson & Johnson and Visa. Two very impressive ladies who do amazing work!

Let’s start from the beginning, why did you choose to pursue a career in CSR?

LS: I think it started when I interned at Dunkin’ Brands on the corporate social responsibility team. During my time at Elon University, I had a whole host of internships ranging from marketing and special events with the New England Patriots, to brand planning and strategy on the agency side, to health care PR, and nonprofit communications at Special Olympics Massachusetts. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do post-grad or even how all of these fields and interests fit together until I had my first experience working in CSR.

I always had a strong desire to work in communications and help companies articulate what they stand for and I found that CSR was the perfect avenue to do so. Every company, no matter how big or small, needs a CSR strategy. It’s not just good business, it’s imperative to business. I love getting the opportunity to work with all kinds of different organizations varying from transportation and logistics, retail, pharmacy and health care, nonprofits, financial services and more, to help them realize their purpose and make an enduring impact in the world.

DN: I have always been passionate about volunteering and giving back to my community. Growing up, my family moved to a new country every five years or so because of my dad’s job. One way I got to know the neighborhood and meet new people was to find a cause to donate my time to (e.g., volunteering at a local animal shelter).

After graduating from Boston University in 2013 with a dual degree in psychology and public relations, I knew I wanted the career path I went down to align with my core values. Helping companies give back to the communities they operate in seemed like a perfect way to marry my interest in communications and my desire to make a difference in the world.

How do you see the Corporate Social Responsibility landscape changing and what advice would you give to CSR leaders after working on a number of large client programs?

LS: At Cone, we’re constantly tracking the latest trends and best practices in CSR across multiple issue areas and exploring the best ways to connect them with consumers, employees, investors, communities and other key stakeholders. It’s no surprise that in today’s climate, there’s been a shift in the way people are perceiving CSR and what it means to be a responsible organization. Our 2017 CSR study revealed that although CSR will always be grounded in business operations, the stakes have gotten a lot higher. Companies must now share not only what they stand for, but what they stand up for.

Yes, consumers expect companies to continue their CSR commitments, but they now want them to go a step further and are actually looking to companies to drive change, with 63% saying they are hopeful businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change moving forward. This is something that companies and CSR leaders should definitely not take lightly, as our research showed that consumers are also willing to reward (87%) or boycott (76%) companies based on their corporate values and CSR commitments.

My advice to CSR leaders today would be to continue to ensure CSR remains an inherent priority of your organization enterprise-wide, that’s embedded in your corporate strategy, synonymous with your mission and embedded within your employee engagement;  94% prioritize being a good employer as part of what it means to be a responsible company. Once CSR becomes fully-integrated in your company, the next step is to turn your commitments into action through implementing a comprehensive strategy and approach that will vary based your company’s unique mission and desire to make an impact—whether that’s  through goal-setting, strategic programs, initiatives, partnerships or other defined objectives. The key is to align your core values and corporate mission from the start enterprise-wide and then take that values-led approach to find ways to make measurable, bold and lasting impacts via authentic ways your company can walk the talk.    

DN: In the last few years, we have definitely seen an evolution in how businesses are approaching CSR in a response to growing customer, consumer and employee expectations. Stakeholders now want companies to not only improve business practices, but also be a force for change in broader society.

In 2016, 64% of CEOs planned to increase their investments in CSR, with more companies embedding CSR into their core business operations. More recently, we have seen purpose-driven companies expand CSR efforts beyond company walls and use their influence to advocate for societal issues such as racial justice, immigration, LGBTQ rights and gender equality. This expansion of CSR commitments can be attributed to ever-increasing evidence that CSR is simply good for business. Research from Harvard Business School  demonstrates companies with strong CSR commitments “significantly outperform counterparts.” And companies like Unilever are seeing first-hand the financial benefits that come along with a strong commitment to CSR: chief executive Paul Polman recently revealed that the company’s Sustainable Living brands accounted for half of the company’s growth in 2014 and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the business.

Despite wanting companies to do more, Cone’s research has shown nearly three-quarters (74%) of consumers do not believe companies are striving to be as responsible as possible until they hear information about positive efforts. Additionally, Cone’s latest Gen Z research found this young generation as looking to engage in company CSR efforts. Now is the time for brands to gain insights on these digital natives to better understand how to engage with a generation that wants to make an impact on social and environmental issue, both online and in day-to-day life.

My advice to leaders who are looking to gain credibility in the eyes of consumers is to take on a multifaceted approach to communicating CSR initiatives. For companies to break through the clutter and reap the bottom-line benefits, they need to authentically build CSR into the brand experience.  This means going beyond an annual report, a marketing initiative or a single page on their website.

Why has there been a shift to Cause Marketing Programs vs. a more traditional approach to Corporate Philanthropy?

LS: Today’s consumer is continuously changing and so are their wants and needs. I think we’re seeing this shift to more cause marketing type programs and initiatives versus just traditional corporate philanthropy efforts as we see today’s consumer and their needs and desires continue to evolve. We’re finding that more and more consumers and employees want to get engaged in company’s CSR efforts and would rather support an organization that’s making a tangible, genuine impact, not just through philanthropic dollars or funding, but through breakthrough campaigns that truly inspire.

Google’s Building a Better Bay Area campaign is a great example of this. Rather than take a traditional approach to corporate philanthropy and donate funds to preselected or partnered nonprofits, Google allowed people to cast their votes online for how they would give away $5.5 million in funding to Bay Area nonprofits, and then installed cool interactive posters in bus stations, restaurants, food trucks, etc., so people could easily vote locally. The campaign ended up generating 400,000 votes over the course of about three and a half weeks thanks to online votes and branded hashtag #GoogleImpactChallenge.

REI has also seen similar success in engaging consumers in cause marketing. Building on the success of its #OptOutside campaign, REI spearheaded Force of Nature, a campaign aiming to close gaps in the quality of men’s and women’s outdoor gear design by putting women front and center to make the outdoors the world’s largest level playing field. Through this bold campaign, REI combined traditional funding with interactive consumer activations to drive greater impact, bringing over 1,000 classes and experiences across the U.S. and raising $1 million to support community organizations creating opportunities for women outdoors. We especially love this campaign because it’s a great example of cause marketing that’s inherent and authentic to who the brand is.

DN: I believe the shift toward more cause marketing programs vs. traditional corporate philanthropy can be attributed to more consumers and employees wanting to get engaged in companies’ CSR efforts.

Now more than ever, consumers want to use their purchasing power for good: according to Cone’s 2017 CSR Study, 87% stated they purchased a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about.  In response, more companies are realizing the benefits of giving their customers and employees the opportunity to contribute to their CSR efforts, instead of simply writing a check to a nonprofit partner. By involving key stakeholders in its CSR journey, a company can do good while raising awareness for its commitments and reaping the associated reputational benefits.

Do you see a value in personalized cause marketing solutions? If so, why do you think this is a good solution for employee engagement/retention?  

LS + DN: There is absolutely value in creating personalized cause marketing solutions. By tailoring cause marketing campaigns to individual’s needs, companies can create personal connections with customers and make the giving process seamless and easy.

Additionally, personalized giving solutions can be a great way to get employees engaged with a company’s CSR efforts. Employees are a company’s front-line ambassadors and arguably the most important asset a company has. And, as the workplace evolves, so do employees’ expectations for what they want to get out of their jobs. It is now going to take even more to keep them inspired and dedicated, and companies that respond with dynamic, flexible and customized employee engagement programs will be rewarded with a loyal workforce that is ready to do all they can to advance a company’s CSR efforts and make a difference at work, at home and in their communities.

We have used a lot of CONE Communications stats in our whitepapers and blog posts. Your annual CSR study is great! What do you think is the one stat/takeaway that all CSR leaders should know from the 2017 report?

LS: Yes, consumers expect companies to continue their CSR commitments, but they now want them to go a step further and are actually looking to companies to drive change, with 63% saying they are hopeful businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change moving forward. This is something that companies and CSR leaders should definitely not take lightly, as our research showed that consumers are also willing to reward (87%) or boycott (76%) companies based on their corporate values and CSR commitments.

DN: I think one of the most telling statistics from Cone’s 2017 CSR study is that 63% of Americans are hopeful businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change moving forward, in the absence of government regulation.

In the midst of dramatically changing global political climates, the private sector has an even greater responsibility and opportunity to take the lead in advancing critical social and environmental agenda. This is a time, unlike any other in history, when companies need to show the courage to adopt strategies that create long-term value for their business, brands and for the communities they serve.   

What are the main value adds CONE Communications brings to your clients?

LS + DN: Cone’s corporate responsibility work and our best-in-class research have attracted some of the best minds in global sustainability issues, cause marketing and nonprofit communications.  On any day, you can find us helping clients deliver emotional storytelling to highlight their organization’s CSR journey. We pride ourselves on creating brand value and return for philanthropic, social and environmental commitments and organizations of all sizes, and tracking trends that help us understand corporate behaviors expected in today’s transparent world. No matter what we are doing, we strive to deliver on our purpose of Always Making A Difference℠ for business, brand and society.

Can you share a Case Study where your client involved their customers or employees in their cause marketing program? We would love to hear about the results!

LS + DN: One of Cone’s highlights in cause marketing has to be creating the American Heart Association’s flagship signature cause program, Go Red for Women. Built to launch a movement to fight heart disease in women, the campaign put a new face on an issue often mistaken for a concern of older men. For this, our team designed a variety of events and experiences to invite consumers into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the American Heart Association.

And the results were outstanding:  50% of consumers named Go Red for Women as the #1 cause movement important to them. And 45 countries around the world adopted the campaign and conducted awareness activities around it.

Today, the campaign has become ingrained into popular culture as evidenced by the appearance of Go Red Barbie, a Go Red Girl Scouts Patch, and Go Red presence on TV shows such as What Not To Wear and Deal or No Deal. To this day, Go Red for Women continues to be recognized as a marquis cause marketing program – and one which we are extremely proud of!

Thank you Lindsey and Devika for your time and contribution to making the world a better place!

While we love this entire interview, our top two takeaways are:

Takeaway 1: Companies must now share not only what they stand for, but what they stand up for. According to Cone’s 2017 CSR Study, 87% stated they purchased a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. (Check out our Guide to Giving white paper)

Takeaway 2: There is absolutely value in creating personalized cause marketing solutions. By tailoring cause marketing campaigns to individual’s needs, companies can create personal connections with customers and make the giving process seamless and easy.

p.s. You can give DoDollars to Go Red for Women on our platform!

We love spending time with other CSR, Marketing, and nonprofit leaders. If you know someone we should feature, please reach out and refer them! Here are some of the latest interviews we conducted:

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