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Is Honesty No Longer Enough in CSR Communication?

| Wednesday January 12th, 2011 | 3 Comments

In the recent series CSR 2010 on In Good Company (Vault’s CSR blog), John Kim, Herman Miller’s A Better World Marketing Manager suggests that even complete honesty in communicating a company’s good work may longer be enough in this cynical consumer climate. Kim describes the current marketing environment as rife with greenwashing misdirection, consumer confusion and commonplace green and sustainable communication efforts, making it difficult for companies that are truly doing good to “cut through the clutter” and differentiate themselves. Common decency tells us that if you are honest, earnest and making a good faith CSR effort, customer loyalty and sales will follow – but is that still true?

Kim questions whether marketing has become so saturated with green messages that it has all faded into background noise, resulting in consumer immunity. Instead of green and sustainable being strong selling points, do consumers now automatically expect companies to make a quality product and make the world a better place? Having just gone mainstream, has genuine CSR already lost its power and individuality?

No. Complete honesty in communication IS still part of the solution (backed up by true CSR). It simply isn’t the whole solution.

Recognized by Fortune, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and Corporate Responsibility Magazine for “building a better world,” Herman Miller is already anchored on firm CSR ground inside and out. That still remains the first and biggest hurdle. A company’s CSR message can’t rise to the top without the company itself espousing solid CSR principles throughout its culture. With Herman Miller’s tall CSR reputation to stand on, Kim ponders HM’s current communication challenge: how to best broadcast their message?

Now that consumers are deluged with green marketing messages, Kim believes that brand messengers must step up to the next level and “keep our consumers engaged, not just informed.” No longer does messaging travel one way from company to consumer, but it needs to initiate a back and forth conversation.

As social media grows exponentially in popularity, are companies that engage in honest consumer conversations the ones who will be heard above the noise?  Do companies need to be more accessible as well as more transparent? And once more and more companies follow suit and become solid CSR citizens, are honest, accessible, responsive and conversant — what’s  next?

Hopefully, a better world.


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  • Jake

    Love the article. One thing I keep reading and rereading is that one can no longer speak to an “audience” on CSR issues. An organization must engage with a “community.” What are some examples that you are aware of that demonstrate an organization engaging versus speaking?

  • Andrea Newell

    Jen –
    Thanks! You said it much better than I ever could.