Brand Envy: Are You Leveraging Your CSR Initiatives to Build Value in Your Brand and Marks?

Brand Envy: Are You Leveraging Your CSR Initiatives to Build Value in Your Brand and Marks?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) no longer is a buzzphrase. Rather, it is a crucial link between your business, your customers (and prospective customers), and even your employees. CSR initiatives help show the world who you are as a business, the principles for which your business stands, and your business’s commitment to social, environmental, and other causes. But, are you leveraging your CSR initiatives to build value in your brand and your trademarks and service marks? If so, are you adequately protecting your marks to maintain the value you have created? And, are you thoughtfully and strategically enforcing your marks consistent with the image and reputation created by your CSR policy. Accordingly to at least one survey, many businesses may be overlooking opportunities to better align their CSR initiatives and their brands.

Over the past decade, CSR has grown from a footnote on a website or in an annual report to a major component of a business’ identity and persona. Countless studies and scholarly articles have been published that identify, using objective empirical data, the far-reaching benefits of adopting and promoting a CSR policy—both tangible and intangible. These benefits include things like increased revenue, decreased costs, improved brand visibility and loyalty, bolstered employee morale, and heightened customer stickiness. For example, having a strong CSR policy can be the difference between being selected by a procurement officer for the deal that takes your business to the next level, or being left to fight for that next opportunity.

For an increasing number of businesses in an increasing number of industries, a well-promoted CSR policy will also significantly influence consumer purchasing decisions. This is especially true for consumers who have been raised in a social media-driven world and who place a high value on businesses that adopt and promote CSR policies that are consistent with the consumers’ own beliefs and priorities. The importance of CSR as a tool to differentiate your business in a growing and crowded marketplace cannot be overstated.

Despite the significance of CSR in today’s business world, many businesses still are not focused on CSR or are not leveraging their CSR initiatives to build value in their brand and marks. In March 2020, the International Trademark Association (INTA) published a report titled “Brands and CSR Survey Report.” The report presented the results of a survey of worldwide trademark and service mark owners across numerous business demographics and industries. Interestingly, the report revealed several key takeaways:

  1. Nearly 85% of businesses believe that implementing CSR policies and adopting sustainability principles is a good economic practice and benefits a business or brand.
  2. However, nearly 38% of businesses have not adopted a CSR policy and are not engaged in CSR-like activities.
  3. Of those businesses that have adopted CSR policies, nearly 33% (one-third!) have not made them public.
  4. Nearly half of businesses reported that CSR has no impact on their overall branding strategies.

These takeaways suggest several opportunities for businesses to leverage CSR and build value in their brands and marks:

  1. If your business does not have a CSR policy, create one, implement it, and make it a public-facing component of your branding strategy.
  2. If your business does have a CSR policy, make it part of your business’s mission statement and promote it both inside and outside of your business.
  3. Protect your trademarks and service marks, including by registering your marks in all key countries. Your marks are a vital component of your overall brand. The value and goodwill created and built by a strong CSR policy can be irretrievably lost without proper protection of your marks.
  4. Police your marks, but align your enforcement strategies with your CSR policy. Not every infringement warrants a ten-page cease and desist letter, and not every cease and desist letter needs to be written using highly adversarial language. Find the right balance between protecting your rights and communicating in a way that is consistent with the image of your business that is represented by your CSR policy.

At the end of the day, adopting a good CSR policy can benefit everyone—society, your customers, and your business. However, if you are not leveraging your CSR policy, and aligning it with your branding strategy and your IP protection and enforcement strategies, you may be overlooking an opportunity to create value for your business while still giving back.

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