What do toothpaste, beer, shoes and hospitals have in common? A mission to do good. If you have been watching television or online ads lately, you may have noticed an upward trend of companies infusing corporate social responsibility into their brands. Corporate social responsibility refers to a business practice that involves participating in initiatives that benefit society. However, it is often viewed as a corporate-driven, top-down, obligatory duty that does not connect employees with the mission of the company.
Thanks in large part to the influence of Millennials (those born between 1980 and the early 2000s) in the workforce, corporate social responsibility is transitioning to a more palatable approach called corporate social engagement—a thoughtful, mission-driven approach that brings companies and employees together to make a greater social impact.
While corporations have a long history of writing checks to support charitable organizations, efforts to truly engage and inspire employees to be part of the cause have historically been lackluster. Only recently has engagement become an expectation for companies seeking to build their brands, improve customer loyalty, and attract and retain talent.
In fact, Unilever—a marketing firm representing some of the world’s most recognized brands—has added social purpose to its own brand positioning, even making it their primary brand platform.
This shift in advertising has been quite apparent, with companies promoting their causes rather than their products. For example:
- You may have seen Colgate® toothpaste recently use Super Bowl 50 to shine a spotlight on the need and value of water conservation. In its 30-second television spot, the company encourages people to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth to “make every drop count.”
- Stella Artois, a Belgian beer company, launched their “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign, a new initiative aimed at ending women’s journeys to fetch water.
- TOMS® has long promoted itself as a “One for One” company. As explained on the company’s website, every time a TOMS product is purchased, TOMS helps provide shoes, sight, water, safe birth and/or bullying prevention services to people in need around the world.
It is not hard to see the trend. Millennials are driving a consumer economy focused on sustaining the world—and their influence has grown. The Millennial population as a whole has surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And in 2015, with 53.5 million strong, Millennials became the largest share of the American workforce, according to Pew Research Center.
So how does all this fit in with healthcare? Hospitals and healthcare companies by nature have a mission to do good. Using social responsibility as a brand platform is an opportunity ripe for the taking. Like the companies featured above, healthcare organizations can embrace corporate social engagement as a strategy for building brands, fostering loyalty, and enhancing recruitment.
Corporate social engagement as a brand and loyalty strategy
Millennials choose products and services provided by companies that are committed to making a difference in the world.
In fact, a recent Nielsen survey found 55 percent of global online consumers across 60 countries are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Consumers around the world are saying loud and clear that a brand’s social purpose is among the factors that influence purchase decisions.
Consumer attributes common among Millennials include:
- Active and highly participatory
- Value corporate affiliation with a social cause
- Seek brands with benefits beyond the bottom line
- Believe companies and individuals should work together for greater social impact
- Want to be actively engaged to do good in the world
Healthcare is about engaging consumers and gaining lifetime loyalty, in part, by sharing the story of how your health organization is making the world a better, healthier place. Healthcare organizations can expand their brand platforms by using cause-marketing to drive brand affinity.
Corporate social engagement as a recruitment strategy
A 2014 Bentley University study of more than 3,100 people found that Millennials are not as enthusiastic about entering the business world as they should be, considering the demand for them in the workforce. This could be in part because Millennials have a negative perception of traditional businesses. As a result, Millennials say they seek out employers who are committed to social responsibility:
- 85% prefer to work for a socially responsible or ethical company
- 95% prefer to work for a company with a positive corporate reputation
- 91% prefer to work for an employer based on social impact efforts
We are just beginning to see the Millennial influence in our workforce. What is taking root now is likely to grow and spread and flourish—it’s not just a passing trend. After all, the oldest Millennials are still in the early stages of their careers. It would be surprising if they didn’t bring major changes as they continue to join the workforce and advance into positions of influence. With the healthcare industry facing an impending workforce shortage, healthcare organizations can attract and retain a talented workforce by inspiring employees to become loyal employees, brand ambassadors and engaged consumers simply by doing what they want to do: change the world.
Infusing corporate social engagement into your brand
Corporate social engagement is not simply about making monetary donations. It has to be meaningful to employees and the cause must relate to the mission of the organization. Without a strategy for corporate social engagement, employees can become disconnected from the cause and lose interest in the mission. Based on my experience, the most successful corporate social engagement strategies include a three-way approach, offering employees options: giving money to a corporate-sponsored cause, joining a corporate-sponsored community initiative, and/or extending care into the community through corporate-sponsored community service.
Using this strategic approach in a purposeful, mission-driven manner will position your health organization to do more than provide care, services or products – it will engage employees in becoming brand ambassadors who are happy to be part of the organization and build a brand that extends beyond its core services. As a healthcare marketing strategist, I see infinite possibilities for the healthcare industry to build a brand platform on corporate social engagement. Enlist your employees to expand your corporate footprint by giving, joining and serving in order to make an honest impact in your communities.