Sustaining the ESG conversation: smart strategies to freshen up tired topics
With many other topics demanding attention in our social feeds – including the war in Ukraine – sustainability marketing needs to work harder than ever to catch audience attention, without triggering ‘climate fatigue’.
How can companies release content that hits all the right notes on these still essential, even existential, issues, while also being fresh and engaging?
Own your ESG journey – all of it
All good sustainability strategies – and the communications that result – will start with working out which areas of ESG are most relevant to your company and sector. A company needs to show it really means what it says, and narrowing the focus will help you sound genuine and not like you’re jumping on the bandwagon.
In an age when accusations of greenwashing can harm a company’s reputation, being upfront and transparent about the challenges you face in decarbonising can actually earn trust. Patagonia’s Director of Environmental Action, Beth Thoren wrote in a thought leadership piece for Fortune ahead of COP26: “We don’t use the word sustainable… Because we recognise we are part of the problem.”
Be transparent about your progress
Post-COP26, more and more companies are adopting ESG reporting metrics that include non-financial disclosures from greenhouse gas emissions to pay equality and board diversity.
As investors and consumers use these reports to hold companies to account, it will become increasingly important to stick to the facts – and acknowledge how much impact your policies are having. And whether those emissions you’re reducing are direct or indirect.
The more specific and less vague you are in your use of terminology, the more meaningful your content and the less it will sound like greenwashing. So are we talking about ‘end-to-end plastic usage’ or just ‘recycling’? Be aware, though, your audience might not yet know the difference between Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, so you may need to explain (in a non-patronising way).
Bring your own unique slant
Each organisation is on its own unique ESG journey: the message one company will amplify will be completely different from another.
For example, our client TCS is consistently named the UK’s top employer and rightly deserves to shout about what it’s doing around diversity, equity and inclusion (the “S” in “ESG”). TCS has found that membership of its network of networks – support groups including UNO Parenting Club for single parents – actually boosts productivity at work. It’s a win-win that’s ripe for translating into powerful owned content.
Be human and communicate with humility
Even before the pandemic, B2B brands were being encouraged to be more human on LinkedIn to gain trust and build success. Arguably, in these virtual times, the social network has become even more important as a way to share corporate messages.
So use real-life examples, case studies and personal stories to weave a compelling narrative about your ESG journey or show how your corporate purpose impacts on your employees. Sometimes it doesn’t come easily for executives to put themselves forward as thought leaders, but it helps to build connections when you show the human face of your brand.
“Sustainability messaging alone is not enough and could even have an adverse effect. That’s why evidence through thought leadership, personal viewpoints and case studies is so compelling – it prompts the audience to draw its own conclusions,” says Ashish Babu, CMO – Europe & UK at TCS.
The days of stock images of solar panels and polar bears on melting ice caps are over. Use infographics and videos to bring your content to life and simplify complex topics on social media.
Shell does this well in this video introducing the designer working on their first electric vehicle charging station, which neatly weaves together a few of our key points. They’re open about their unique ESG journey – a transition away from oil – and they are hoping to reinforce the message by putting a human face on their future vision.
There are less than five months until the eyes of the world turn to Egypt for COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh – and there’s a lot of work to be done in that time as countries and companies work to set out how they’ll make good on pledges to reach net-zero.
The pandemic and its imperfect virtual working world has taught us to be more human, more vulnerable, more transparent and more authentic – and these are watchwords that need to shape any meaningful ESG communication.
About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content, and the author of ‘Powerful B2B Content – Using Brand Journalism to Create Compelling and Authentic Storytelling’. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.
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