Sanjeev Kotnala: CSR: the marketing tool to leverage internal force with a brand synergistic act

16 Sep,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR is not a new thing for Indian culture. It has been present in one form or another through ages. Remember how the Jodhpur Palace was created. It was made so that the proud Rajasthanis who would not take alms, could work during famine and earn from the king.


CSR seems to be a buzzword today. No one asks ‘Should we do CSR’ but the question is direct and demanding  ‘What should be the CSR we should engage in’


The definition that works for CSR is simple. ‘Corporate Social Responsibility refers to the practice of conducting business in a manner which links it to ethical values, compliance with legal requirements and most importantly, respect for people, communities and the environment. All on voluntary basis. The last part ‘Voluntary Basis’ is critical.


Giving back to society and making desirable impact on people and Planet is as important as the third P- Profit. In fact lot of organisations have shifted on to the triple bottom line approach in measuring their impact.


CSR is a strategic decision.


Marketing and management both are slowly waking up to the fact that CSR can be the second brand experience and differentiate them. Yet we keep on seeing tactical philanthropic work and charity – the Cheque/fund CSR wasting organisational resources. These helping hand and slow removal of guilt of making money wrongly impacting people and planet is fine. Maybe it is the best that could do under present situation and that too is fine.


We should use CSR as a tool. We should leverage it. We must identify a sustainable Brand synergistic CSR that will help us build strong brand associations over a period of time. CSR has a slow burner approach in association and benefit. It is like creating a temporal memory in heart and mind.  Remember we never believe that Tata will do anything illegal or something that is not good. Being Human has many advantages.


Such brand synergistic CSR can be handled by the marketing department or a sub team within it.  The team sees opportunities, it makes the brand look good, it even gets peer appreciation and ultimately everyone feels good about it.


A real brand synergistic CSR idea can morph into a brand campaign. And that is interesting when the differences merge. ‘Touch that Pickle’, ‘Share the load’, ‘Jaago Re’ can be seen as a perfect CSR and a perfect brand campaign. And it does not matter what is the perspective with which you see them. It matters what the impact on people and planet it is making. The audience is a lot smarter in information democratised digitally social world.


CSR idea should be one of the core elements of the organisation, that no incoming CMO can change it easily like they do with the brand. For a real good initiative and impact, you even need to have a leadership that operates not necessarily in Brand or category level but on social impact level.


This feeling of goodness can enhanced, if we use the internal work force in the process. Not just for implementation but even in the process of selecting the CSR for the organisation.


Even after this, the brand may fail to break the final cultural barrier. A culture that has wrongly taught us – the left hand should not know what the right is doing. And for this many brands fail to get the rightful advantage of CSR. Get out of it. Do not shout, but one can always politely humbly make the current and potential customers know of our good work.


In this digital and socially connected world, this is very much possible. And a great momentum can be by the employees, the internal teams. They will be more than willing and excited if they have been part of CSR idea. If they have co-created, co-owned, co-evaluated and co-nurtured it. In such case, passion levels are different and it reflects in the pride they associate with it.


There are questions that have very polarised answers. It maybe a good idea to check your inner thought. So take a deep breath and think:

1. Will a brand synergistic CSR always be more impactful?
2. If CSR is adding to brand- then will it be more sustainable?
3. Should one really create awareness about hype about CSR?
4. Is marketing department best suited to implement and manage CSR?
5. What are your organisations CSR and are they the best ideas that the organisation should be implementing?


A word of caution, in case the CSR is not brand synergistic, it may be better to brand it differently. Then giving it to marketing will be unjustified. They will not be interested. They live for the brand and with the brand. In such case of a non-synergistic CSR their involvement is normally restricted to right placement and size of logo.


Parking CSR with corporate affairs will lead to early corruption of the idea. If it is possible, it is better to create a separate CSR vertical/ team that reports to the chief executive and one who engages the internal and external stakeholders.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Founder and Head Catalyst at Intradia. A Brand, Marketing and Management Advisor. He conducts specialised workshops in the area of IDEATION (Harvest and Liberate) and Innovation (InNoWait). His focus is to enhance client’s team potential and capabilities, as also CSR. In process decreasing their dependence on external resources. To contact email or tweet at s_kotnala visit

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