Baking CSR into your brand – Ben & Jerry’s

Screen shot 2010-11-11 at 10.41.29 Browsing Ben & Jerry's Facebook page, as part of a project on social media and brand, reminded me that they are still probably the best example of "Brand Social Responsibility" or BSR. This is where the good things a brand does for society or the environment are "baked in" to the product or service. We believe this is much more relevant for consumers than "Corporate Social Responsibility" or CSR, which is what the parent company of a brand does. CSR is a step away from the stuff you buy, so its impact on brand and business is less direct. People are more likely to pay a premium for a product or service that does good every time you buy and use it.

In the case of Ben & Jerry's they literally bake the good stuff into their brand by using what they call "values-led sourcing". The most famous example of this is the brownies that they use in their ice cream. These come from a company called The Greystone Bakery in New York. This business gets people off the streets and gives them a job in the bakery to help them escape from poverty. As they say on their website, "We don't hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people".

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A few learnings from Ben & Jerry's BSR:

1. Its a long-term game: to be really credible in BSR you need to be in it for the long-term. Ben & Jerry's partnership with The Greyston Bakery goes back 20 years. This makes your BSR efforts more credible. It also helps you establish brand properties, by focusing your BSR efforts on a small number of key partnerships you can establish in consumers' minds and hearts.

2. Bake in the good cause, don't just give to it: Many brands are still taking the easy route by giving to good causes. What is much harder, but also more powerful, is baking the good cause into your brand. Ben & Jerry's use of brownies from Greyston is much stronger than the alternative of using any old ingredients than giving some cash to them.

3. Sell the success: there needs to be some brand and business growth from your BSR efforts. And this means promoting what your BSR effort has achieved. Many brands fragment their contributions to good causes, and don't invest in telling people what they have done. Ben & Jerry's tell their BSR story on pack, in their book, Double Dip, and on their Facebook page.

In conclusion, CSR is the easy and obvious way for brands to have a social mission. BSR, and baking the good cause into your brand, is much harder. But the brand and business rewards should be bigger.