Brand Purpose and Corporate Social Responsibility. Where Do You Draw the Line?

As Corporate Social Responsibility Programmes become an essential part of a brand story, we ask, are they one and the same thing.

And does it even matter?

When people ask you what you do for a living, do you talk about your individual role first or the brand you work for? If you find yourself talking up the company, chances are, the brand has a compelling purpose at its heart.

If you don’t, well, it could be time to go back to basics. So, what’s the difference between a company mission statement, vision and a corporate social responsibility programme? No, it’s not a bad joke – there really is value in knowing the answer.

A company’s mission statement declares a company’s purpose – why it exists. Not to be confused with a company vision statement, which is where the company wants to end up in the future. And none of this should be confused with Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR for short. Although it often is.

Forbes puts it neatly, “CSR is usually a key part of an organisation’s operating ethos, its values and purpose.” For brands, it’s increasingly playing a part in engaging employees and customers alike.

Not the same thing then, but a part of the same thing? It’s easy to be confused.


If your company purpose isn’t clear, it’s time to do something about it. Why? Because it boosts employee engagement for one. Make purpose top of your to-do list and you will inspire consumers, stakeholders, attract new employees and improve talent retention. Just a few things then.

Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start With Why?’ says “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” We concur.

Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive & Recognition, agrees, “If your people truly believe in what they’re doing, they’re going to be energised, inspired and loyal to the business. It’s this belief in the mission and purpose of the business that fuels an emotional connection between the employee, employer and their work.”

Brands that have purpose, are generally brands that people want to work for.

Yet a report from Achieve found that nearly two-thirds (61%) of employees don’t even know what their company mission statement is. If yours needs dusting off, there’s certainly no time like the present.

Companies large and small have a lot to benefit from in promoting a compelling purpose. Whether that’s internally or externally, a sense of purpose can help to align people to what drives you as a business.


It doesn’t matter if you sell nuts and bolts, fizzy drinks or white elephants, if you create people engagement by addressing your company values and purpose, and sharing these with every single member of staff, everyone stands to win.

John Rudaizky, Partner and Global Brand and External Communications Leader, Ernst and Young, says, “Purpose is about galvanising and driving people forward. What we found is that overall if people have a greater sense of purpose, profit will follow.”

For some companies, this can be easily confused with Corporate Social Responsibility.

Take Patagonia, the outdoor clothing retailer. Their mission is to make the best quality products with the least amount of harm. With a compelling purpose that builds sustainability and renewability into everything they do, they even went so far as to buy a national park in Chile.

It’s this love for the outdoors and natural environment that permeates throughout their work. Patagonia have taken this sense of purpose to a whole new level. From sourcing less toxic dyes to introducing family-friendly policies, they really come across as a company that talks the talk. It’s motivational success stories like this that really drive people engagement.

Brand purpose should be in your company’s DNA. Get that right and people will really believe in you. Plus the rewards will be long lived.

For Patagonia, the CSR story almost tells itself. Other companies may not have a natural affiliation with the great outdoors, but that doesn’t mean to say they can’t find ways to give back through social and environmental initiatives.


People engagement matters and at the centre of this is honesty. Be dishonest and it will literally come back to bite you somewhere unpleasant. VW knows all about that

As Sodexo’s research revealed, just 3.6% of those asked felt that they strongly disagreed they wanted their company to give them opportunities to give back to the community – doing good is high on most people’s agenda, cynical world or not.

As Roisin Donnelly, Brand Director, Northern Europe, Procter & Gamble says, “Purpose has become trendier over the last couple of years because consumers want to know more and it’s about building consumer trust. In the UK and around the world, consumer trust is not high in business.”

Consumers don’t expect perfection, but they do expect authenticity. Keep it real and people engagement will be elevated.

While philanthropy might be all the rage, for some, the idea of huge businesses giving vast amounts of cash to big causes isn’t that impressive. It’s kind of necessary and hey, aren’t there tax breaks for that sort of thing, anyway?

It’s what else the Microsofts and Apples of this world do to promote issues like equality and diversity, as well as their environmental impact. What’s more, as the Sodexo study revealed, “the modern workforce, doesn’t just want to see CSR in practice, they want to be a part of it.”


As CSR becomes more integrated into the brand identity, its role is only going to grow. And according to our ‘Be the Change CSR Survey’, 69.6% of organisations recognise employees for their contribution to social and environmental initiatives in some way.

Whether it’s rewarding good working practices like building health and safety programmes into your company culture or driving behaviour change with incentives and rewards, positive workplace cultures have a place to play in bringing CSR schemes to life.

Here are some examples of CSR in action:

Giving back to local communities – Google gets people to volunteer and hosts Google Serve every July where people can serve their communities through volunteering and community projects. The tech giant then matches donations made by employees.

Placing value on employee wellbeing – Aviva gives employees affected by cancer greater support with a programme in place offering financial and emotional help.

Empowering employees to go green – Levis Strauss has a small team of people championing ways of educating staff about recycling and better office environmental policies.

Travel the world and do good together – TOMS have promised that for every pair of shoes sold, they will match it with a pair for a child in need. Employees are encouraged to attend events and travel the world to see how their work is improving lives.

It seems that the strongest CSR initiatives are those that have social impact whilst empowering employees at the same time. While they might not always be directly about incentivising performance, these are staff incentives on another feel-good level. Employee health and wellbeing at work is increasingly sneaking into the CSR equation.


While purpose and CSR need to be aligned, it still doesn’t make them the same thing.

According to Forbes, brand purpose needs to centre on five key areas (DEEDS), crucially focusing on how a company provides its service as a complete entity.

  1. DELIGHT CUSTOMERS – a purpose explains why your organisation exists in the first place, with customers’ needs at its centre.
  2. ENGAGE YOUR TEAM – employee engagement is driven by a sense of value and this is created when everyone has a purpose or goal behind their daily duties and role.
  3. ETHICAL WITHIN SOCIETY – the impact your company has on society as a whole, financially, environmentally and socially matters so make decisions based on this
  4. DELIVER FAIR PRACTICES – establish a positive workplace culture that delivers consistent ways of working and best practice such as fairness. 
  5. SERVE ALL STAKEHOLERS – an organisation has to serve all of its stakeholders, (from employees to customers and owners) positively to make an impact.   
The five bullets highlight how purpose is about what an organisation stands for. While this must include CSR, it doesn’t and can’t work in isolation. An organisation cannot solely stand for improving sustainable development.

Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, Executive Partner and Chief Research Officer at Reputation Institute, says, “When an organisation’s CSR agenda aligns with its corporate brand purpose, it drives higher levels of internal and external engagement.”

Ultimately, each CSR programme needs to consolidate the purpose and values of the business, and make sense in the context of everything that surrounds it.

As Sodexo’s research shows, there’s no one-size-fits-all CSR shoe horn either – strategies should overlap naturally and employees need to feel able to influence key decisions. Make it happen from within and your culture will be one that everyone wants to play a part in.

There are exciting times ahead for brands who strike the right balance.

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