42% - this is the weight given by consumers to CSR when evaluating a company's image.
Far from being a simple and unique business opportunity, CSR commitment must be anchored within the company's strategy. B2B organisations are no exception.
In addition to legal obligations requiring major groups to be totally transparent about their suppliers’ practices, business customers are also becoming increasingly demanding about the origin of raw materials and the methods of manufacturing or producing the products and services they are offered.
After decades of doubt, awareness and action are now a reality: 3 out of 4 companies will have measured their carbon footprint by the end of 2022 and 64% of them have no difficulty in involving their managers in the deployment of their CSR policy (compared with 55% in 2021).
However, there are still obstacles. These include
- a lack of time, which is often a major handicap
- an inability to set up a dedicated team
- difficulties in measuring the company’s social and environmental impact.
Yet the proven benefits of a well-oiled responsible approach are strategic: a better brand image, increased competitiveness, improved social performance and greater economic and environmental sustainability.
Why implement a responsible marketing strategy? What elements should it be based on? What are the legal obligations? How can a credible, sustainable and effective B2B approach be deployed?
What practices should be avoided? Follow the guide.
01. CSR, Positive Impact, Responsible Marketing: what does it all mean?
Having a positive impact on society while being economically viable
According to the European Commission, corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to the voluntary integration by companies of social and environmental concerns into their commercial activities and their relations with their stakeholders.
In other words, companies must contribute to the challenges of sustainable development, which have 3 interdependent dimensions:
- Economic: a CSR company undertakes to be transparent with all its stakeholders. It supports communities and the development of the local economy, implements a fair commercial policy, ensures flawless quality of service, undertakes to answer consumer questions, etc. ;
Social: the safety, well-being and health at work of its employees are at the heart of its concerns. Objectives: to respect human rights, promote diversity and economic solidarity, strengthen equal opportunities and guarantee a healthy working environment;
- Environmental: controlling their carbon footprint, using clean raw materials, and manufacturing or using biodegradable products are just some of the commitments that CSR companies undertake to respect.
Positive impact (or “Impact +”) is the extension of the CSR commitment. It involves adopting a sustainable and economically viable model based on an approach that respects people and the environment.
Responsible marketing is an integral part of a company’s CSR strategy. Its objectives are to :
- to encourage practices and promote products that have a low environmental impact, are fair trade and socially responsible;
- to give priority to ecological and responsible promotional media and sales channels.
Who are the company’s stakeholders?
- Management bodies
Employees and their representative bodies (e.g. social partners)
- Shareholders and investors
Customers and clients
Suppliers and sub-contractors
- Local authorities and associations
- Public authorities
- Certification bodies
- Research bodies, think tanks and independent experts
- Consumer associations
- Media and influencers
- Management bodies
5 good Reasons to Build a Responsible B2B marketing strategy
1. Attract new customers who care about their environmental and social impact
Product, price, place, promotion… but also social and environmental responsibility.
Here’s something to add to your marketing mix to convince your B2B targets to put their trust in you. And with good reason: calls for tender (or applications for subsidies) increasingly include requirements in terms of sustainable development. CSR labels such as Global Compact or Ecolabel are sought after by buyers. Failure to meet these requirements will automatically disqualify you.
In B2B, as in B2C, before making a commitment, professional customers now want to know where the products they are looking for come from and how they are manufactured: what is their carbon footprint, where do the raw materials used come from, how do the potential sub-contractors work, what are the preferred sales media and channels, how are the employees treated, etc.? These are all questions and differentiating factors that will encourage your prospects to make a purchase.
Adopting a responsible approach means responding to the strong demand for commitment expected by B2B targets… and therefore increasing your potential for seduction.
2.Work on your brand image by opening up your discourse to social and environmental issues
For a long time, financial results and product technicality were the two main pillars of B2B brands’ sales pitches. Those days are gone. As a B2B company, you now have to prove your raison d’être beyond these two components, and demonstrate your interest in and commitment to social and environmental sustainability.
This is a great way to raise your profile and stand out from the competition by proving that you are capable of delivering a modern, collective message that focuses on aspects other than the profit and performance of your products, which are by nature cold, self-interested and navel-gazing.
Did you know that?
- 9 out of 10 organisations are involved in or about to embark on a responsible purchasing initiative.
- 62% of organisations that do not yet have a sustainable purchasing strategy are SMEs or small local authorities.
3. Innovate and strengthen the company’s competitiveness
A blessing in disguise, some would say. Others will say that CSR constraints have become a pretext for innovation. Whatever the case, producing sustainably, selling using low environmental impact media, reducing your carbon footprint, and acting in favour of the well-being of your employees are all reasons to innovate, including by manufacturing your products or delivering your services differently.
The result: a potentially tenfold increase in competitiveness and profits.
Did you know that?
Between companies with a CSR policy and those without:
- The difference in economic performance is 13%.
- The quality gain in terms of customer relations is 5%
Top 3 reasons why private organisations engage in sustainable procurement
- The organisation’s ethics (83%)
- Alignment with the organisation’s purpose (81%)
- Meeting the expectations of customers and consumers (74%)
4. Better risk management thanks to a long-term vision
Because CSR encourages organizations to take into account the expectations of their stakeholders, it enables them to strengthen their risk analysis by including new observation parameters. Taking environmental, social, and governance risks into account will help you :
- anticipate regular and increasingly impactful changes in regulations, the needs of your customers and your entire ecosystem (partners, employees, suppliers, investors) ;
- identify long-term environmental and societal issues and take short- and medium-term action to guard against them ;
- better manage the potential arrival of new crises..
5 .Enhance your employer brand to win the war for talent
It cannot be said often enough: candidates, especially those from the famous Gen Z, are extremely sensitive to the values promoted by companies. In their view, the ideal company :
- is committed to social issues such as the environment (29%), the fight against discrimination (27%) and gender inequality (25%) ;
- is a local organisation (39%), promoting the social economy (25%).
Promoting a commitment to social and environmental values is therefore a powerful argument for attracting future talent and retaining existing employees.
Did you know?
91% of employees believe that the ecological transition should be a priority or important concern for French companies.
Legal obligations: accelerating business transformation
1. Carbon footprint
All companies with more than 500 employees (250 in the French overseas territories) are required to provide ADEME (Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie) with a report on their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions every 4 years.
This legal obligation acts as a real accelerator for the companies directly concerned, but also, by ricochet, for smaller companies: as large structures need the carbon footprint of all their suppliers, they find themselves obliged to provide their own in order to perpetuate and/or expand their activity. If you are concerned, act quickly. Your competitiveness depends on it.
2. Equality indexé
This is a score out of 100 used to determine where a company stands in terms of professional equality between men and women. All companies with at least 50 employees are required to calculate and publish this score by 1 March each year. Above 85 points, the total is considered to be “good”. Penalties of up to 1% of the total wage bill apply in 2 cases:
- the minimum score of 75 points is not achieved within 3 years of publication of the first score;
- the company does not publish its index..
Only 12%7 of companies required to calculate their index have not done so. 22%5 of those not yet required to do so have already done so. Overall, legal obligations are encouraging companies to take action. They are not, however, the only triggering factor. For 96%5 of large groups, this is the second most important motivating factor, behind employer brand and talent retention, and ahead of brand image and competitiveness. However, this situation varies greatly depending on the size of the company.
The 5 criteria used to calculate the equality index
- Gender pay gap (40 points)
- Difference in the distribution of individual pay rises (20 points)
- Difference in the distribution of pay rises, only for companies with more than 250 employees (15 points or criterion merged with the previous one for companies with 50 to 249 employees)
- Number of employees receiving a pay rise on return from maternity leave (15 points)
- Parity among the 10 highest earners (10 points)
02. How do you build a responsible, effective and sustainable marketing strategy?
Carry out an audit, then choose your CSR commitments
Whether or not the size of your company requires you to do so, the first thing to do is to measure your carbon footprint in order to establish a precise diagnosis of your company’s practices. By assessing your energy consumption and the volume of your greenhouse gas emissions, you’ll find it easier to define the content of your environmental policy.
Then carry out a detailed audit to identify your areas for improvement in terms of social and/or environmental responsibility… and to deduce the precise content of your projects and commitments.
To do this, ask yourself several fundamental questions:
- What are the company’s values?
- What are my customers’ expectations in terms of responsible commitments?
- Who will be the spokesperson for my social and environmental initiatives to my employees and/or all my stakeholders?
- On what elements and at what points in the life cycle of my products is it possible to initiate changes that have an impact and are technically feasible (use of local raw materials or materials with a low environmental impact, manufacture of biodegradable packaging, etc.) ?
- How can I influence the communication and sales processes for my products to make them more responsible?
This will enable you to make informed choices, justify them to your stakeholders and build a strategy that is consistent with your customers’ expectations, your brand’s positioning, the company’s overall vision and its values.
Test your projects with your B2B targets
Responsible marketing also leaves no room for guesswork. While the desire of B2B buyers to consume responsibly is a certainty, there’s no telling what they expect from you in this area.
So the best thing to do is to ask them. Online surveys, focus groups, webinars and thought-provoking posts on social networks can all help.
The aim: to make the durability of your products an additional benefit for your target audience, in addition to (and in no way detrimental to) their technicality, practicality, performance and competitive pricing, of course.
Appointing the employee(s) responsible for embodying and implementing your commitments
Once you have defined your strategy, the next step is to plan and implement it. A CSR manager or sustainable development officer, either on their own or as part of a dedicated team, can help you do this.
Their role :
- to be the identifiable face of your commitments internally ;
- coordinate actions linked to the defined strategy;
- assemble the necessary resources;
- map out the challenges in order to prioritise your actions;
- motivate employees;
- establishing regular communication with stakeholders.
Rallying the troops internally
While it is important to communicate your commitments explicitly to your customers and all external stakeholders, it is equally important to do so to your employees.
How do you do this? By explaining the raison d’être of your responsible projects, the issues at stake and their links with the company’s overall strategy.
There are a number of information and/or awareness-raising tools that can help you do this:
- sending out newsletters ;
- sharing content via your internal communications network ;
- organising training courses or workshops
- displaying information on your premises
- creating murals and challenges.
The challenge is twofold:
- to encourage the implementation of an employee advocacy approach, making your employees external ambassadors for your responsible commitments and actions;
- to facilitate the implementation of these actions because, let’s not forget, the deployment of a CSR approach is not an isolated act. Several internal stakeholders are involved. These include R&D, human resources, general services, purchasing, communications and sales.
Did you know?
- 59% of companies believe that only a “small proportion” of their teams, or even “very few employees”, are involved in their CSR approach.
- 22% of companies state that less than 5% of their employees are involved in their CSR approach.
Top 5 themes for raising employee awareness:
- Gender equality
- Mental health and prevention of psycho-social risks
- Combating discrimination
Obtaining a CSR certification or label
ISO 14001, Lucie, B Corp, Positive Workplace… There is no shortage of certifications and labels.
Obtaining one is a guarantee of differentiation and confidence for your company. It is also a reassuring factor for your targets and a source of credibility for your stakeholders.
The difficulty: choosing the right label. To do this :
- take into account the size of your company. A multinational may opt for Ecovadis certification, while a small organisation may prefer the PME+ label, for example ;
- choose a label that is relevant to your sector of activity or to a specific CSR topic on which your commitments are based ;
- Evaluate the amount of time you can devote to obtaining the label. Not all labels are equally demanding. The higher the level, the more time-consuming the task will be;
- turn to reliable references if you opt to obtain a label.
The most serious labels, which have been around for a long time and have led to many companies being awarded the label :
-require an audit by a third party (other than the company or organisation that created the label) ;
– Carry out a second post-labelling audit to check that the strategy has been properly applied and that a continuous improvement process has been put in place..
Recognised labels include Lucie, Ecolabel, B Corp, PME+, Notation Ecovadis, Positive workplace and Numérique Responsable or Engagé RSE.
What are the differences between a label and certification ?
- Certification is regulated by law, but is not compulsory. It provides proof of your CSR actions. This recognition is the most reliable. It represents a commitment that goes beyond what is required by law. Examples: ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (energy performance).
- The label is an independent tool proving your commitment.It is awarded when you meet all the criteria required by the label. It takes the form of a visible visual on your products and communication media. Not governed by law, it can be awarded by a private body or an association.
Support responsible initiatives
Corporate philanthropy, donations to associations and the funding of high-impact projects are all ways of strengthening your responsible message. While these actions should under no circumstances replace the implementation of responsible initiatives intrinsic to your products and your company, they will help you to glorify your image, while highlighting your values.
It’s up to you to identify the right ones and match them with the projects you support.
Did you know?
- 2.1 billion euros in donations were made by businesses in 2019.
- The environment and biodiversity ranked 6th among the priority areas chosen.
Measuring the effectiveness of your CSR marketing strategy to make progress and communicate more effectively
Here again, like any other marketing action, the implementation of a responsible strategy needs to be monitored using dashboards containing appropriate financial and non-financial KPIs.
Objectives: to measure the impact, cost and progress of your actions in relation to the objectives set, to convince your employees of the validity of the projects undertaken, and to prove the existence, progress and relevance of your actions to external stakeholders.
Each major family of responsible actions has its own objectives. Here is a non-exhaustive list.
Environmental KPIs :
- Volume of greenhouse gas emissions;
- Carbon footprint of employees;
- Carbon footprint of your products and services;
- Proportion of waste recycled;
Company water consumption;
- Energy consumption;
- Volume of kilometres travelled by teams over a given period;
- Percentage of your production made in France, etc.
Social KPIs :
- Male/female breakdown of payroll;
- Breakdown of employees by type of contract (permanent, fixed-term, temporary, sandwich course, etc.);
- Number of employees trained each year;
- Staff turnover ;
- Absenteeism rate;
Quality of working life satisfaction index;
- Average length of service;
- Average salary by gender, etc.
Responsible purchasing KPI:
- Share of responsible purchasing ;
- Number and proportion of labelled/certified suppliers;
- Number and proportion of purchases from local suppliers;
- Average payment times for your suppliers, etc.
Did you know?
In 2022, 70% of companies will still be finding it difficult to measure the impact of their CSR actions, compared with 64% in 2021.
03. Building a credible case based on tangible evidence
The pillars of responsible communication according to ADEME
According to the Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie (French Environment and Energy Management Agency), responsible communication must meet 2 fundamental challenges :
- position itself as the spokesperson for the company’s responsible commitments ;
- integrating a responsible approach, in terms of the content and form of the communication tools and actions used
It is based on 3 pillars:
- “Ecodesign“, is aimed at reducing the environmental and social impact of the communication tools and actions implemented by the company. No polluting, dangerous or non-recyclable products. Low environmental impact media (biodegradable packaging, vegetable-based inks, etc.) and approaches that take account of issues of inclusion and accessibility are to be preferred;
- Ethics and transparency: the messages and figures disseminated must be authentic and verifiable. There is no question of promoting “perhaps responsible” actions. The challenge is to deliver precise messages, based on proven facts and tangible evidence. The company must act in a way that respects its stakeholders and is also committed to transmitting a global message that promotes a responsible vision of society;
- Governance: responsible communication concerns all business lines and all members of the company, whether employees or managers.
The 5 golden rules of responsible, relevant and credible communication
#1 Banish green and social washing
Gone are the secondary characteristics or anecdotal approaches that present a product as more ecological than it is, or an approach that is artificially or only partially socially responsible. Responsible communication is based on tangible evidence and verifiable figures.
There is no place for self-proclamation or guesswork. Worse still, these practices can discredit you in the eyes of stakeholders, who are particularly attentive and intransigent when it comes to green and socialwashing. Some of them will not hesitate to stigmatise you in the eyes of their activists and expose you to sanctions with far-reaching consequences. These could include a boycott of your products or bad buzz on social networks.
#2 Act and evaluate before communication
All responsible communication must be based on proven actions, demonstrable facts and abundant, verifiable figures. Before communicating :
- make sure that the actions you wish to highlight have actually been implemented and that they aim to bring about a fundamental change in the way the company operates (projects that significantly improve the quality of life at work, new manufacturing processes for your products with a low environmental impact, etc.);
- Be prepared to present evidence to back up your arguments and show how far your projects have progressed;
- stand back sufficiently to be able to present evolving figures showing the progress you’ve made;
- prepare your speech meticulously and anticipate factual and quantified responses to any objections.
#3 Constantly interacting with stakeholders
Attentive, suspicious, demanding and expert, stakeholders are at the heart of the CSR ecosystem. Communicating responsibly in B2B does not mean promoting a general corporate message or, worse still, a promotional one.
To be credible, heard and effective, all responsible communication initiatives must involve an ongoing exchange between the company’s governance and its stakeholders, both internal and external. At the heart of this exchange are requests for opinions and advice, information on the progress of projects undertaken, and the presentation of figures attesting to the action taken and progress made.
#4 Be regular and educational
When it comes to responsible communication, “one-offs” are not the way to go. In order to have a lasting impact in every sense of the word, it is essential to communicate regularly and in an extremely educational way.
It’s no secret that in B2B, targets’ available brain time is particularly limited. Complex, noisy and arrogant proposals will not help you to convince them. Instead, explain your responsible approach as simply and directly as possible to your prospects, customers and other stakeholders. The more regular, clear, precise and straightforward your message, the more credible it will be, the more it will be heard and the more it will inspire confidence.
#5 There’s no point in running…
Marathon, yes. 100 metres, no. That sums up the process of continuous progress that must be part of any responsible action worthy of the name. There’s no point in boasting that you’ve achieved this or that objective at lightning speed. Your actions will come across as suspect and your words as hackneyed or even misleading in the eyes of your stakeholders.
Instead, adopt a transparent style of communication, characterised by self-sacrifice and sobriety.
How can you do this?
- By regularly and openly taking stock of the extent to which you are achieving your objectives;
- by acknowledging your difficulties, and even your failures, without trying to play them down;
- by presenting the palliatives put in place to make progress.
Implementing a responsible project doesn’t just happen. It’s a long-term process that requires questioning, patience and the ability to adapt.
Presenting yours as such will be a guarantee of reliability, credibility and seriousness in the eyes
There is no longer any doubt about it: responsible marketing is a proven source of value for B2B companies.
A genuine conviction backed up by proven facts, precise and evolving figures and regular and indisputable proof, the strategy put in place must be embodied by the organisation’s governance and shared by all its stakeholders, whether internal or external.
Another essential element for success is continuous improvement towards profound change, in perfect harmony with the company’s overall strategy and values. All of this is supported by a discourse that emphasises transparency, sobriety, regularity and education.
The result of a well-managed responsible policy: enhanced brand image, proven gains in competitiveness, better control of risks and a tenfold improvement in social performance.
The mistake would be to snub it or not to feel concerned.
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