Over the past decade, more and more companies have turned to corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies to manage their reputation. Ignite PR has helped many Australian franchises leverage CSR initiatives to not only build stronger consumer awareness of their brand but also to attract suitable franchise recruits who share the same values.
However, gone are the days of simply supporting a cause – be it training, employment, or sustainability – and leveraging it for reputation gain. Add-on CSR strategies don’t establish long term credibility and in some cases may even do the opposite. Changing social attitudes also spark new consumer expectations around CSR meaning companies have to address these changes.
So what does this mean for Australian franchising?
The first challenge is how to use CSR as a means to differentiate from competition while still maximising business benefits. Franchises will need to develop their own way of doing CSR that is consistent with both their core values and unique position in the industry. It needs to go beyond a food franchise educating people around healthy eating or coffee franchises supporting ethically and sustainably sourced coffee beans. An effective CSR program will make consumers feel good beyond the product or service they’ve purchased by supporting a company that supports a cause they believe in.
CSR can also be the difference when it comes to franchise recruitment. In a period when finding suitable franchisees is more difficult than ever, the reputation of a franchise is crucial. It’s about giving prospective franchisees another reason to invest in your brand beyond income potential or support offered. The culture that exists within your franchise and your corporate behaviour provide a great indication of the values you hold, helping to attract the people you actually want in your system.
The challenge is how to tackle CSR into the future.
CSR needs to be consistent with your franchise’s core values and supported by the entire network. It also needs to be a long term program – add-on CSR strategies won’t do much for your reputation if elsewhere you’re perceived to be contributing negatively. CSR should start at the boardroom table and be included in your business strategy, setting the tone at the top and incorporating CSR into business objectives and responsibilities of franchisees.
As franchises strive to become closer to their customers – whether through old and new media or digital marketing – CSR will bear greater importance in managing reputation as expectation of your corporate behaviour also increases.