INTA report highlights brand commitment to CSR (when it has never mattered more)

  • INTA publishes new report focused on CSR and the role brands have in society
  • Over half of respondents say absence of CSR policies puts brands at disadvantage
  • Law firms and service providers lag behind corporates on published statements

INTA has published the Brands and CSR Survey Report, a study undertaken by its 2019 Presidential Task Force. The research builds up a picture of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities and attitudes in the trademark community, and comes at a time when brands have an increasingly critical role to play in wider society.

The research polled INTA members, with 227 responding. Of these, 62% were law firms and 18% corporations, with SMEs (3%), service firms (6%), non-profits (5%) and individuals (2%) accounting for the remainder. In terms of the headline findings, the survey concludes that commitment to CSR is generally high among members, with recognition that these efforts – when made public – can contribute to brand value and brand loyalty. It also found the following:

  • Almost two-thirds of respondents (62.39%) confirmed that their organisations either have a CSR policy or are engaged in activities targeting the improvement of society, the environment, labour practices, equality or other issues.
  • 84% agreed that CSR policies and adopting sustainability principles as an operational priority “constitutes good economic practice and will benefit a company and/or brand”.
  • Such policies and activities are more common among corporate, SME and non-profit respondents – 84% stated that their companies have CSR policies and/or are engaged in CSR activities, compared to 56% of law firms, service firms and trademark/patent agents.
  • Three-quarters of respondents agreed that incentives should be available to corporations that adopt CSR policies/practices.
  • 58% agreed that the absence of CSR policies/practices puts companies and brands at a disadvantage in the market.
  • More than 88% of law firms and service firms reported providing pro bono services.

Drilling down, across all regions and organisation types, respondents overwhelmingly (over 75%) believe that there is a social obligation for businesses to engage in CSR activities. This takes many shapes and forms, but the takeaway is that, across the board, CSR matters. As well as meaning that companies are ‘doing the right thing’, the survey highlighted the sentiment that incorporating CSR policies and adopting sustainability principles helps businesses generate a positive reputation; build better relationships with clients, consumers, employees and the wider community; generate goodwill; raise awareness about issues and important challenges in society; and create and sustain trust in the brand. At a time when consumers are looking for products and brands that are ‘good citizens’, such activities have a significant payback in terms of goodwill and loyalty.

Interestingly, though, only about 60% of respondents reported that their companies use CSR practices in their marketing or branding, or that CSR policies are part of their companies’ mission statements and public-facing communications. In short, not all companies publicise their efforts.

There may be a number of reasons for this. For instance, there may be reluctance to be seen as capitalising on the good that they do. But while the tone of messaging is all important, there are benefits to transparency over CSR activities. This is particularly so for organisations that have made CSR part of the brand DNA – indeed, around half of respondents reported that CSR affects their companies’ overall branding strategies. For such companies in particular, CSR activities are part of their story and should be treated as such.

As well as offering insight into how brands are embracing and messaging about CSR, the study provides some useful clues as to future INTA areas of focus. The association has identified such activities as a critical component of being a brand ambassador, hence the establishment of the Brands for a Better Society presidential task force. Positively, it has also made CSR a central component in its own identity. For instance, at INTA events, there has been a noticeable step up in engagement with host city communities and non-profits, and the association has also called on the community to support charity: water.

Two weeks ago on WTR we published a piece from David Lossignol, 2019 INTA president and head of trademarks, domain names and copyrights at Novartis Pharma AG, on the association’s ongoing focus on CSR. In it, he notes that a “key objective for INTA is to provide its members (32,000 brand professionals globally) with the resources that they need to succeed in this transformative role.”.

The report is designed to inform those efforts and INTA will now be able to shape future activities around the findings. For example, the survey uncovered a wide range of views on what CSR engagement should actually look like, leading INTA to note: “The lack of a common global focus for CSR efforts suggests that INTA may want to focus future initiatives on CSR broadly, or target specific CSR initiatives on a regional basis. For example, while diversity and inclusion is a hot topic in large, liberal US cities, it does not appear that similar levels of engagement on that issue are seen globally.”

Current societal and economic challenges arising from the covid-19 pandemic also make the report important reading. Last week we considered the role of trademark professionals in the current climate, as well as the need for companies that are perceived to do the right thing, in the right way and for the right reasons. This week has brought more examples of brands becoming positive social actors. To highlight just one, consider Ford, which in addition to helping customers who find themselves financially affected by the outbreak, this week announced that it is collaborating with GE Healthcare to begin production on a third-party ventilator, with the goal of producing 50,000 units within 100 days and up to 30,000 a month thereafter as needed. It is also working with 3M to manufacture at scale Powered Air-Purifying Respirators.

As INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo concludes: “It is heartening to see that brands in all sectors and in all parts of the world are stepping up to do their share. There is more brands can do – and no doubt will do – to effect change especially at a time such as now when major global issues are impacting and challenging our society like never before. Given the current covid-19 pandemic, individuals, society, and brands should reflect even more on how they can contribute to better society today and do their best to reshape the world for future generations.”

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