Brand Strategy & CSR Round-table At Brandonomy

Nov 02 2015

Brandonomy in association with Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies Bangalore organized the CSR and Brand Strategy Panel Discussion where the audience witnessed an elite panelists from Cognizant, Tesco, Xchanging, Brillio and Manipal Foundation.

The Moderator: Abhishek Ranjan

With 10+ years of CSR, Marketing and Industry Relations experience, He is currently leading Global Corporate Social Responsibility and BFSI Industry Marketing for Brillio Technology. He has served on the board of non-profits and CSR/IT committees of CII Karnataka, BCIC, and NASSCOM.

The Panelists:

Bala Warrier

Bala holds an engineering degree from India and Masters from University of Florida. He has 50 yrs of global exposure in working/ senior level management experience in India US, UK and Middle East

He is currently the CEO of Manipal Foundation and former Founder Director of United Way of India Blr Chapter. Former Ranji Cricketer and National Level Badminton player Still active at Club level sports and Cultural Activities.

Shiwani Varma Vyas

Shiwani is a result oriented strategic integrated communications specialist with 14+ years of experience, having worked on both the agency and corporate environments. As an in-house B2B marketing communications leader at Minacs and Xchanging, Shiwani has driven ROI focused multi-channel marketing and thought leadership campaigns. Shiwani holds two specialist post graduate qualifications in Public Relations from Xaviers Institute of Communications, and in Sales & Marketing from NIS Sparta.

Deepak Prabhu Matti

Deepak is currently heading Business Performance Management for a Horizontal business unit at Cognizant Technology Solutions. He is working with Cognizant since 12 years. Prior to Cognizant, Deepak was working with Wipro Technologies for 8 years. He has played multiple roles in Cognizant’s CSR program over the last 7 years, trying to work with the Corporate CSR team in driving volunteering and Cognizant Foundation work in Bangalore.

Aniisu K. Verghese

Aniisu is an internal communication expert, author and consultant and has over sixteen years of experience in the evolving internal communications and social media domains with leading retail, IT, financial services and consulting organizations. He currently serves as the Corporate Communications and CSR Lead for Tesco Bengaluru, the technology and operations team of Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers. He is the recipient of the 2015 PR Hall of Fame Award at the 9th Global Communication Conclave of the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI).

The panel discussed following question during the roundtable:

  • What CSR can do for Corporate Reputation?
  • The days of not communicating CSR developments are numbered because the marketplace is steadily demanding greater transparency. Where should we draw the Lakshmana Rekha when it comes to CSR communication?
  • Many organizations are now housing CSR functions under their Corporate Communication or Marketing divisions. The role of marketer/communicator in the CSR world is a part negotiator, part arbitrator, part diplomat.
  • CSR without the HR angle is simply PR. That is to say, if employees are not engaged, CSR becomes a PR exercise.
  • CSR communication efforts will likely evolve from a cause branding strategy to a broader, more encompassing communication plan.
  • How to amplify CSR communication
  • Some of the key takeaways of the event:
  • There is a strong linkage between CSR and reputation and ignoring this phenomenon is a missed opportunity. Many feel that doing good work and not talking about it is the right approach. My take is that if you do good work the word will spread even if you want to keep it under wraps. The best channel is within and your own employees are your most authentic advocates. Nothing can be beat authenticity and transparency when it comes to CSR.
  • CSR communication is a lot to do with culture. In parts like India where service is expected to be done without much fanfare, communicating about your CSR work can seem like publicity and self-promotion. There shouldn’t be any Lakshman Rekha (line of control) for CSR communication. It is important to communicate the why and the how rather than just that the ‘what’ for CSR.
  • Organizations can’t suddenly gain CSR consciousness – one of the panellists mentioned how a friend of his on joining a start-up was asked to do CSR because it was now the ‘buzz’ and they also needed to get funding and look ‘good’ in front of investors. If CSR is in your DNA it will come across as credible. If you fake it chances are that people will notice and you may not be able to sustain it in the long run. Get CSR into everyday life – add it to your performance measures, remind employees what they can do more, encourage their individual commitment for the causes they support in their personal capacity and inculcate a habit of giving.
  • With the 2% CSR guidelines coming into play in Indiamany organizations are now housing CSR functions under their Corporate Communication or Marketing divisions. The role of the marketer/communicator is beginning to evolve. They now need to gain a better understanding of the function, engage stakeholders beyond the usual remit, demonstrate abilities to negotiate, partner, influence, involve and tell stories in ways that matter for the brand.
  • To amplify CSR communication the organization needs to make the effort visible and connect with audiences in meaningful ways. Message content is as important as the channel. If the focus is on commitment, impact and fit the communication will be well received and valued. The key point is to overcome stakeholder skepticism that the communication isn’t about ‘selling’ and more about explaining the context, consistency and durability of the CSR work. CSR communication should be factual to avoid being labelled as ‘bragging’. You can include CSR in almost any channel or avenue – packaging, campus branding, alumni communication, vendor engagement, third party endorsements among others. Word of mouth is the most effective approach to get the message around. Social media is crucial for the success of CSR although it needs to be employee led and less by the corporate communication team. Research studies have demonstrated that the reach of social media posts by employees is 8X times those of corporate accounts.
  • Many organizations do cause related branding and marketing and the trend is shifting towards CSR communication. In my view, cause branding is temporary and short term while CSR communication has long term value and impact. There is also skepticism associated with cause branding because there is usually a direct profit associated with the cause and effect for the brand (i.e., every sale is associated with a portion of funds going to charity etc). The fit and the value must be very closely integrated for the cause to be accepted by customers. Also with many companies now associating with causes to further their brands fatigue sets in quickly. Brands can’t be built overnight on CSR. It either needs to be in the DNA or it will never be perceived as authentic. There are 3 strategies which research points out – stakeholder information, response and involvement. Involvement is the most evolved strategy since it is about co-creating the outcomes.

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