Build Your Own CSR Strategy In An Integrated Way: Four Things Learned From IBM Smarter Planet Campaign

In recent years, many companies have spent million dollars every year on CSR communication programs, in hoping of making a significant impact on their companies to society and their business. However, it is very critical for companies to think carefully about how they communicate the stories to their stakeholders and build up strategies which are the most appropriate to their business.

IBM’s Smarter Planet is a campaign that has united the company’s mission, world view and technologies for the last ten years. This campaign offers marketers and PR practitioners some lessons in the areas of positioning, advertising, content creation, social behavior and more.


Smarter Planet is a great example to show us that a big business idea also could facilitate a social responsibility program combined with lots of small ideas and big social causes. Meanwhile, it ensures the high level of engagement with its stakeholder groups. It got me thinking that Smarter Planet was a perfect case study for any of us working on a comprehensive corporate branding program, even though the campaign’s scale was greater than most companies could ever afford to realize their ambitions.
According to IBM agency Ogilvy in its 2010 Gold Effie winner submission, “IBM wanted the world to understand it could solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.” It is true that Smarter Planet was designed to build global business for IBM. But it needed an approach commensurate with the moment.  “We were looking for a way to share knowledge that would be useful,” explained John Kennedy, IBM’s chief of corporate communications. “We needed something to say and share more than something to sell. And we had to do it in a respectful way.”
Here are my takeaways from  IBM Smarter  Planet campaign in a perspective of a PR practitioner:
  1. Avoid over-emphasizing corporate language. The communications with the company’s stakeholders on its campaign should address the issue and stakeholders’ needs itself focusing on rather than keeping convincing people that your company is a social responsible company and good at its expertise that is obvious to target audiences.
  2. Utilizing inspired factors and representative In the communications will be helpful if people or significant examples could be addressed in the message as a strategic approach to reach each market segment. For instance, IBM highlighted thought leaders in the different industries to inspire other market players.
  3. Setting CSR strategy for integrated communications instead of being The company should try not to set communication strategy based on one project in a short term no matter the scale of its campaign, and it is not an opportunistic promotion. Cause-related corporate communications should be seen as a long-term and integrated promotion that involving all-sided stakeholder groups.
  4. Engaging with right target audiences with the right message. External and internal communications should use different languages to deliver messages for one common goal. Before crafting the messages for various audiences, the company should figure out the purpose and DNA of what it is doing for its audiences and why it should engage with them. Even though sometimes the message will be vague regarding the umbrella purpose of the campaign, the company should improve that the dream it talks about would be realized by real solutions.


According to Ian Stephens of Saffron Brand Consulting in Contagious Magazine: 

Successful branding is quite straightforward: find a brand idea with the right mix of rational and emotional messages and build it into absolutely everything you say and do in the marketplace. By identifying the integrated brand idea of ‘progress,’ which connects tightly to the substance of their business strategy, the IBM team gave themselves a head start. The bright and optimistic visual identity also helps tell the story.”

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