Corporate Eye

How not to market CSR content

Often it takes something quite awful to highlight how important it is to do things properly. Clashing colours in an outfit, for instance, or the hamfisted throwing together of herbs and spices in a recipe.

So it is with French Connection’s CSR content.

Social Responsibility is all about showing a company is accountable and conscientious in its pursuit of business. This must shine through if the CSR information is to play an effective part in the company’s marketing strategy.

French Connection’s CSR content stands as a useful example of how to do this … by doing the exact opposite.

The introduction starts stiffly “The Board recognises..” before going on to state how profitability may be effected by the impact CSR issues have on assets, brand and reputation.

The remaining statements, spread over only two pages, are equally terse and distant. Many of them are tied up with qualifications to set the boundaries on the company’s abilities and responsibilities. This gives it the dry and stuffy air of legal documentation.

Crucially, there’s no sense of pride in the CSR work French Connection does. No trumpet blowing or drum banging to gain your attention. No facts, figures, examples or graphs you could take away and compare with competitors.

There’s just the distinct impression that the company does the bare minimum required by law and nothing more.

Compare this with the over 70 pages of CSR content provided by The Gap, French Connection’s closest competitor in the UK.

The introduction starts “At Gap Inc., we believe…” and there’s a quote from the Senior VP of Social Responsibility. Further content is presented blog-style, with the first paragraph content followed by “More” links to draw you in further.

The language is also radically different. For instance, when talking about their supply chain, French Connection states:

Our staff visit the factories we use for garment production on a regular basis and consider the environment and work practices during those visits … [our standards] accord with industry standards including inter alia that employees should: be given a safe and healthy environment to work in; be given the right to free association; be paid a fair wage; have freedom of association; not be forced or bonded labour; be of an appropriate age; work only reasonable hours.

Compare this with The Gap:

Because we don’t own the factories where our clothes are made, we regularly inspect them to ensure that working conditions meet our standards. But our efforts don’t stop there. We recognize that we have a responsibility to work in partnership with factories, as well as other apparel companies and concerned organizations, to improve working conditions across the industry. Together, we are striving to make garment factories around the world safe and fair places to work.

They then goes on to provide further links to “Working with Factories”, “Business Practices”, “Partnerships” and “Our Team” with yet more pages under these subheadings.

From these paragraphs it’s impossible to tell which company enforces a higher standard upon their suppliers. However, while the French Connection details the standards in question, The Gap succeeds by demonstrating how the company is conscientious.

The real worry is that French Connection may not have realised how competitive companies are becoming over CSR. Across the board, companies are finding they have to factor it into their market strategies one way or another in order to stay ahead.

In addition customers, investors and the press are becoming accustomed to finding out about the policies and the schemes which a company subscribes to. Awareness of greenwashing is rising, and with it the belief that if a company is not transparent then it is trying to hide something.

The simple statement “we meet legal requirements and no further” may be true for both French Connection and The Gap. However by offering more detail and enthusiasm, The Gap is winning the marketing battle hands down.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.