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key business differentiatorI think I know the answers to these two questions:

Do you want your company to stand out?

Do you want to influence consumer behaviour and enhance corporate reputation?

As businesses battle for customers and profits, it becomes increasingly important to find ways to elevate the reputation of your corporation. One of the best ways to set your firm apart from the competition is an extensive CSR program.

A study from Cone Communications has found that when a company actively supports a social or environmental cause, there is an overwhelmingly positive response from customers. If a business has a CSR component to their business plan, almost all consumers have a better image of the company (96%), are more loyal to that company (93%), and are more likely to trust that company (94%).

For years now, it's been proven that the benefits of CSR reach beyond just a brand booster. If you want talented employees, CSR can help. Cone Communications found that 81% of individuals consider a company's CSR program when selecting where to work. If you want to enter/capitalize on a specific market or community, CSR is also a big indicator. CSR is a determinant for 85% of people for which companies they want in their communities, 87% of people for what to buy or where to shop, and 85% of people for which products or services to recommend.

If that doesn't convince you, maybe this will: nine out of ten global consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given comparable price and quality.

But don't hold your breath just yet; there are signs that this resolve may be slightly shifting.

In many of the countries Cone Communications looked at, consumers had slightly lightening their conviction of shopping for a cause. The number of consumers who were "very likely" to select a brand connected to a cause dropped five percent. So, although customers still express a definite preference for social/environmental causes, buying these products may not be as inevitable as it was a few years ago.

Why is this? Why are consumers seemingly less influenced by CSR?

They aren't. Today, CSR is in the mainstream and has become the norm for businesses. Customers now expect a CSR platform from every business, and have begun to fine-tune their expectations. Now, rather than looking for any brand with an affiliated cause, they look for a brand that they personally want to support. For a company to differentiate itself, it must deliver clear information about a chosen issue/cause and communicate the program's expected individual and collective impact.

So – what does a business need to do in today's day and age to set itself apart?

1. Incorporate a comprehensive CSR program into your business plan.

2. Select a societal/environmental issue that many people will want to support.

3. Communicate the premise, operations and goals of the CSR program to your consumers.

Powering the world to do well by doing good.