How Brands Can Demonstrate Responsibility in Real Time

CSR leaders are planners, with strategy, success metrics and spreadsheets driving their actions. Yet, sometimes the best-laid plans may benefit from one key ingredient: agility.  

In today’s rapid-fire news cycle, we’re seeing social and environmental issues emerge and evolve daily. How do we keep pace with these needs?   

Take a page from Airbnb. This weekend, the accommodations leader aired its "We Accept" Super Bowl ad, which— by the way— was purchased on Thursday and unveiled 3 days later for the Big Game. The break-neck pace of producing this ad came with a bold commitment to house 100,000 people in need over the next five years — starting with refugees and immigrants —through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee. The strong message came in the wake of a sparked national debate around President Trump's immigration order.  

 Airbnb #weaccept Super Bowl Ad

Airbnb #weaccept Super Bowl Ad

Not only did the ad prompt a considerable reaction across social media, it signaled a shift in how we approach CSR. We’re entering an era when CSR is going to be closely tied to the issues that are immediately relevant. While it will always be important to build initiatives rooted in strategy, there will also be a growing need to be nimble and bold. Airbnb jumped on it. From our experience, retail responsibility can happen in real-time when we:  

1. Listen to customers and employees: Social listening and scanning the news will help you recognize what your customers care about; and how your brand can respond to issues and needs on their radar. 

2. Pivot from a brand essence: If you’re clear on who you are as a brand, you’ll know a CSR opportunity when you see one. Airbnb's commitment is relevant AND believable because their essence is rooted in a “sense of belonging.” Having brand filters is the best guide in being nimble with social impact programs.

3. Stage the tools: How do brands start raising funds in stores the day after a natural disaster? They are prepared, having mechanisms in place they can implement if needs arise. This includes creating fundraising programs with communications and operational tools that can be lit up in a moment’s notice and POP materials that can be quickly tailored to support immediate needs.  

4. Announce strongly: Not every brand has $5 million to spend on a Super Bowl ad. Yet, taking time to announce your CSR commitment with impact is vitally important. Leverage your key influencers to get the word out and engage your stakeholders in furthering your work. Airbnb maximized its reach by airing the ad and simultaneously sending an email to users — monopolizing screen time at every turn.  

Retail responsibility should continue to work from a plan, but brands will be expected to show their agility now more than ever. Let's be ready to seize the opportunity to help when a need arises and turn more retailers into Super Heroes, well beyond the Super Bowl.