The Difference Between CSR and Social Marketing

Aug 15, 2022Marketing0 comments

Here at MNGR, we love working with organizations; businesses and nonprofits alike, that go the extra mile to do great things in their communities. Lately, we’ve been thinking about the concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social marketing and how brands can leverage these two practices to not only improve their communities but also to highlight the values that are at the core of these brands. But before we can get into that, we thought it wise to start at the beginning: what’s the difference between CSR and social marketing? Why are they important? and ultimately how can your brand leverage your brand values to win the hearts and minds of your community (a.k.a your tribe)? We’ll answer that and more…

So what is the difference between social marketing and corporate social responsibility? If you ask five different people, you’ll get five different answers, which can make it really hard to know what’s going on. You see, these two terms are kind of like apples and oranges—they aren’t the same thing, but they do have some stuff in common. This article will break down the differences between these concepts and help you better understand how they work in practice.

Traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The idea that corporations should use their powers for good and use their profits to benefit their community is not a recent idea. In fact, famed businessmen and philanthropists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were advocating for CSR (as we know it today) back in the late 1800s. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) suggests that companies should integrate social and environmental concerns into their operations and interactions with stakeholders.

An example of CSR can be found with CVS Pharmacies and their decision to stop selling tobacco products due to their belief that keeping people healthy is more in line with their mission than making a profit off of tobacco is. This decision may have cost them money, but that is something they were ready to live with.

Another Example of CSR can be found with Adidas and their partnership with Parley Ocean Plastic which aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean by creating a line of recycled shoes.

As you can see, traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) is typically focused on giving back to the communities where a company operates– or in the case of Adidas, the planet. It can involve initiatives such as donating goods or funds, providing charitable services, and supporting government policies to address issues related to environmental protection, education or poverty. Some companies choose to measure their success through metrics like total community investment or employee hours devoted to community work projects. Although some businesses find value in these efforts, they are generally not marketed to consumers. Traditional CSR initiatives tend to be risk-averse activities that keep business goals at front of mind throughout implementation.

Strategic Social Marketing

Strategic social marketing on the other hand is a process of using commercial marketing techniques (billboards, digital ads, social media, etc) to influence behavior change for the greater good. It is about understanding people and then using that knowledge to develop messages and programs that will motivate them to take action. The approach is grounded in the notion that customers’ personal values, needs, desires, and preferences must be taken into account when developing programs or campaigns. By considering what drives customers in their everyday lives, strategic social marketers are able to identify ways in which organizations can address unmet needs or meet emerging opportunities.

In simple terms, Social Marketing is the use of marketing to promote to influence positive change in the community instead of promoting a product or service.

For example, a personal injury law firm might advertise “Don’t Drink and Drive” on a billboard near a busy highway rather than advertising the fact that they can help you sue for damages if you are in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.

Social marketing can also come from government agencies or non-profits that want to influence policy and behavior. A common social campaign in Southern Nevada is the “Water Smart” campaign from the Southern Nevada Water Authority. There is no product to advertise, only the urgent message to conserve water in a drought.

How Brands Are Getting It Right by Combining Both Strategies

So now that we’ve covered what CSR and social marketing are, and given a few real-world examples of them we can answer why it is so important in marketing. The big takeaway here is that combining both strategies can be beneficial because it helps brands reach both goals at once- making their customers happy and making society better off. Being able to document the good you do in the community and share it with your audience always going to make for an excellent PR opportunity. It’s important for any company looking to use these strategies to understand their similarities and differences. Social marketing means targeting individual consumers with specific messages through social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter.


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