CSR Strategy, Brand Storytelling, and Emerging Trends: A Conversation With Mallen Baker, Founder of Daisywheel

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CSR Strategy, Brand Storytelling, and Emerging Trends: A Conversation With Mallen Baker, Founder of Daisywheel

Versaic launches blog Q&A series with Corporate Social Responsibility Experts
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Friday, June 3, 2016 - 4:20pm

CAMPAIGN: Getting to Impact


We are thrilled to launch a new blog series interviewing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability leaders. To kick things off we asked Mallen Baker to share his insights drawing from his 20+ years experience on corporate social responsibility.

Baker writes the CSR-related blog The Respectful Business Blog, and produces the related Respectful Business Podcast. He is also Founder and managing director of Daisywheel - digital agency, with a strong focus and specialism on corporate social responsibility communications and stakeholder engagement. He created Business in the Community's 'Responsible Marketplace Principles' and is probably to blame if your company uses the 'marketplace, workplace, environment, community' headings for your CSR / sustainability report.

Versaic: To begin, how do you define Corporate Social Responsibility?

Mallen: As long ago as 2001, I framed my own definition of CSR as being about how companies manage their business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society. It was an important statement at the time, because there were plenty of people who believed that CSR was really just about a bit of philanthropy or community giving. But really it was clear that it should be about how companies make their money in a responsible way.

Ultimately now, it’s understood as companies’ contribution to sustainable development. It’s just something that’s expected, and the terminology of what you call it is rather unimportant.

Versaic: You have had the opportunity to work with many companies in depth, including helping them to tell their CSR story in a more compelling way. As a CSR consultant managing a digital agency, what does corporate/brand storytelling mean to you?

Mallen: Most of all, I think it’s about conveying values in a believable way. People’s default is to assume that corporations care only about the money. Those that can show that they have a genuine culture that helps to define them have a starting point for a more interesting discussion. Of course, for that to work well, it has to be true.  

Versaic: How can brands be more effective in how they engage with people online and share their CSR story? 

Mallen: Make the story about people, and don’t be afraid to talk about the failures and the mis-steps on the way to success. Corporates tend to want to tell a story about the fact that the corporate did something wonderful. But people are not interested in companies, they’re interested in people. And a story that identifies a problem and then leaps immediately to a successful solution is not a story that is going to engage anyone.

The truth is that most company case studies and stories are boring, because their corporate culture of risk avoidance strips out all of the elements that make for an engaging story. Some are starting to get it, and try different ways of engaging, but still very much a minority.

Versaic: What are one or two brands you think get it right with their CSR efforts and why?

Mallen: The most progressive companies now are asking themselves how their entire business model can become more sustainable. Generally, you make the most profit the more ‘stuff’ you can sell, which is not very sustainable. So how do you succeed as a business without simply making more and more stuff that is designed to last as short a time as possible?

Interface carpets experimented with turning their business product into a service, to change the balance of incentives there. Mud Jeans have started offering to lease jeans, manufacturing their clothes to be easy to upcycle and recycle once they’ve been finished with. These are interesting and encouraging experiments because they go to the heart of what problem the business is here to solve. 

Versaic: What tips can you share with companies who would like to increase the impact of their CSR programs?

Mallen: See CSR as a transformative process to make your company into a sustainable business, and work your way from there. If CSR is seen as something you have a small community budget for, then it will be missing the real power and opportunity of the agenda. 

Versaic: Are there any emerging trends that you think will shape the way that brands approach CSR?

Mallen: Social media is going to transform the landscape over the next ten years. The marketers are first into this, as is usually the case. But as a wider tool for stakeholder engagement, social media can be very powerful. It just requires CSR teams to get their heads out of thinking of the CSR report as their primary form of communication, and to discover human-level, authentic ways to make day-to-day connections with people using the tools that are now available.

Indeed, if I think I can still make any contribution to this agenda, it’s primarily in helping companies to do this.


Interested in learning more from CSR and Sustainability Thought Leaders? Subscribe to Versaic's blog at versaic.com/blog to have upcoming Q&A conversations delivered directly to your inbox!