Cashing in on giving back

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Corporate social responsibility. Sustainability. Corporate citizenship. No matter what one calls it, Chinese companies are starting to realize the importance of their green bottom line. Not only does corporate responsibility create a better working environment internally, it provides organizations another channel for promotion and brand recognition externally. While this may fly in the face of CSR’s altruistic underpinnings, creating more sustainable operations still serves as a key market differentiator to internal and external stakeholders. Sometimes the marketing exposure is accidental; sometimes it is a calculated move. Either way, CSR is impacting the way consumers identify and choose their preferred brands.

China’s homegrown multinational company, Haier, is one example where socially responsible planning is leading to increased buyer awareness. Haier holds the highest market share of the global white goods industry, with revenues increasing 11% in 2011. Their refrigerator sales are climbing 50% year-on-year and the company is able to afford major global acquisitions. A large part of this comes from Haier’s work as a sustainable company, notably its efforts reducing manufacturing emissions through a supply chain green strategy. More recently, however, Haier’s work as a 2008 Summer Olympics sponsor provided a venue for global promotion of their brand. Beyond supplying appliances for the Games, Haier heavily marketed their Olympic Hope School Program. The Program promised funding for a new educational facility with every gold medal win by a Chinese athlete. In total, Haier helped to build 51 Olympic Hope Schools, primarily in the areas impacted by the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

As with any area of marketing, including CSR, it is hard to quantify the true impact of efforts and viewer impressions on the bottom line. Sophisticated metrics now allow companies to understand where consumer perception stems from, but this too is not an exact science. The same holds true with Haier’s work around sustainability. It is impossible to measure how many people, particularly in the Chinese market, may have gone out and bought a washing machine because of Haier’s work in Sichuan, for example. It is likely that this, and Haier’s numerous other CSR initiatives, is bringing in revenue for the company. Regardless of the impact, can they capitalize on the success of their sustainability efforts to drive more customer conversions? Absolutely.

 

John Pabon, a freelance communications consultant, helps companies market and promote their corporate social responsibility work. His experience includes policy work with the United Nations, corporate positioning for A.C. Nielsen’s public sector clients and as a marketing director for one of China’s most respected IT firms. He holds a Master’s Degree in international affairs. John currently resides in Shanghai.