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etymology: Speaking like a corporate citizen

Posted by: Paola Norambuena on November 15, 2010

Ever have a friend who sported a political button or an environmental bumper sticker, but whose dedication to the cause seemed to end there? Too often, verbal identity practices around corporate social responsibility (CSR) have been similar: the word green amended to one's moniker, or a glib tagline meant to assuage concerned consumers without actually aligning with the brand in a meaningful way. Like our button-wearing friend: a badge, not a brand.

A new report from Interbrand suggests that CSR is no longer optional — brands need to begin thinking of themselves as corporate citizens of the world. And rather than jumping on the greenwagon, your efforts should be rooted in your larger brand identity. Doing so will allow you to make a greater impact on the world we live in while increasing your brand strength and value. So financial sector institutions, for example, would be wise to consider micro-banking as a centerpiece, while food companies might want to emphasize sustainable agriculture. This more holistic way of thinking should extend to verbal identity practices as well.

When it comes to naming — from products to platforms — badges are out. Names and descriptors need to speak clearly to the benefit. Whether it's in the ingredient, the making, or even the packaging, brands need to clearly state the reason why your product or service is in fact responsible. And for brands that understand how important Corporate Citizenship is to its positioning, initiative or platform names need to reflect the benefit they uniquely provide to the cause. The claims need to be real — and so does the language.

In the beginning, everything was about a superficial environmentalism, as brands slapped some green paint on without a genuine basis for much of the marketing.

Then, companies that actually had a proven commitment and vested interest in a host of global environmental issues found ways to trumpet that authentic side. For GE, whose positioning was reflected in their tagline Imagination at Work, the ecomagination coining brought together the need to be responsible with what GE could do to make that real. It played off a known term, "eco," at a time when environmental issues were just rising to mass awareness.

And now? The authenticity that a brand like IBM brings to bear in CSR is credibly migrating into a broader messaging platform. Smarter Planet brought the intelligence of IBM to a global (and personal) cause. It's no longer based in simplified or associative terms like "green" or "eco," focusing instead on the outcome.

As ecomagination and Smarter Planet show, genuine commitment to a greater cause not only strengthens a brand's proposition, it also makes good business and social sense. Face it: In a post-green world, you're leaving brand value on the table when you don't act — and speak — like an authentic global citizen.

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