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A growing, important business trend is for firms to engage in socially responsible practices. Personally, I am fascinated with this trend and believe it is highly important and desired. While it may not be viewed as intuitive, the emerging perspectives of “shared value” and “corporate social responsibility” demonstrate how many for-profit firms not only contribute to the plethora of social and environmental problems, but actually play a major role in offering solutions to those problems. What is still not clear to many is whether these firms get financial returns on their socially responsible behavior.

As a marketing scholar, I am especially interested in the role that marketing mangers play in the social responsibility trend. While the role of the marketing function and marketing managers, and their contribution to firms, have recently attracted attention in the discipline, the trend of social responsibility has not been integrated into the latter research streams. Thus, we do not know much about the value of having a socially responsible marketing manager.

Together with my colleague from VU Amsterdam, Peren Ozturan, I conducted research that investigates the concept of a socially responsible marketing manager and tests its impact on the marketing functions’ performance and influence within the firm. This research got funding from the Marketing Science Institute (MSI), and we were able to publish an MSI working paper labeled, “The Socially Responsible CMO.”

In this research, we used a number of empirical efforts (interviews, secondary data analysis, a survey, an experiment) to generate multiple insights:

First, we defined what a socially responsible marketing manager is—what does s/he do when s/he comes to the office?

Second, we realized that socially responsible marketing managers are far from mainstream. As an illustration, when testing leading marketing managers’ Tweets about social responsibility, we found that only 7 percent of them refer to those topics. Still, we found that socially responsible marketing managers positively contribute to marketing functions’ performance and influence within the firm. This means that such managers can have more power in the organization, and that in general, the firm can benefit from marketing related socially responsible behavior.

Additionally, we found that the positive impact is moderated by two factors: It is strengthened when customers are more interested in social responsibility, and it is weakened when the marketing manager is more experienced.

There is much work to be done on this new, evolving topic. For example, studying how socially responsible marketing action may have different impact across different industries or different countries. Indeed, one of my next related projects will test the cross-country differences of socially responsible marketing—our interviews with managers in the U.S. and Europe offered very interesting initial evidence about significant differences due to the value system, government regulation, customers’ expectations, and the nature of competition.

Amir Grinstein

Patrick F. & Helen C. Walsh Research Professor; Thomas E. Moore Faculty Fellow