Mastering your ESG Communications - Part 1

29 July 2022 | 5 min read | ESG
Clearly Team

We’re big on the idea of market research. It is a great tool for any business to canvass the opinion of their target audience and get a greater understanding of what people think and feel about a certain subject in real time. It informs decision making and crucially determines if a business is truly in sync with its target market or not.

And from a PR perspective, the insights gained can prove invaluable. Not to mention create a ton of great content for your business, from the humble press release and company blog to video content and creative assets. And we do it for ourselves too, pretty frequently. The most recent of which was in May, when we got 800 business leaders to answer a series of questions regarding their ESG intentions over the next 12 months.

And the findings of the research were both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Pre March 2020, less than one in five businesses in the UK had an ESG policy, a commitment, if you like, to operating more sustainably and positively contributing to societal causes, and uptake of ESG – it seemed – was rather slow until that point. Then the pandemic came, the bottom fell out of the economy and, as we highlighted in video one, customer purchasing decisions began to favour businesses and brands with green and purpose-led credentials. This then triggered a shift in business behaviours as well, and over the course of the next two years, ESG graduated from being a nice to have if we could be arsed, to a non-negotiable priority. Indeed, our figures showed that although respondents with a policy in place, half of them implemented them within the last six months.

So what does this tell us? Well, these businesses are rolling out their policies in response to growing customer demand for their products and service providers of choice to be better businesses, to be more responsible, relevant to what they want, need and what they care about. But there were signs that this was happening during 2020 and again in 2021, that customers were choosing suppliers based on what a business says and what business does and throughout that period, business leaders and marketers continued to check the pulse of the market and what their customers were telling them.

Fast forward to now and it’s abundantly clear that the need to be a good business is no fad, or flash in the pan. It’s here to stay and that’s why we’re seeing a surge in businesses adopting ESG policy and things like seeking B-Corp certification.

And, incidentally, 28% of those planning to roll out their policy are looking to become a B-Corp over the next 12 months. Now, the motivations for doing all of this are pretty questionable. The research that we did of 800 business leaders showed that the number one reason why businesses are implementing these policies in the first place is to improve perception of their brand and attract new customers.

That desire to be a better business that balances profit with the need for positive environmental and social impact sadly ranked second. But you know, irrespective of whether a business is truly committed or simply seeing ESG as a means to command customer attention and gain a competitive advantage, the fact still remains that customers expect more from their chosen partners, so businesses need to not shy away from clearly communicating what they are doing when it comes to sustainability and societal initiatives – and we’ll talk more about that in video 3.

So where are we with this right now? Well, right now, the economy is in one of the most competitive situations has been for a generation, and with the shackles of the pandemic now fully removed, businesses are in overdrive in a bid to recoup some of the revenues lost during the prolonged period of lockdown and reposition themselves for growth.

Other research that we carried out found that 6 in 10 decision makers would favour a business that is green- and purpose-led over a similar provider that wasn’t and 80% of them would even be prepared to pay more for their services. Yes, ESG can fuel growth and yes, there are some businesses putting the pound signs ahead of the need to be better for people and planet.

But to an extent that doesn’t really matter and that does pain me to say. Forget what other businesses do and their motivations for doing it. Your focus for your business has to be on your customers and your own people, because key to business growth is not how your competitors are behaving, is understanding what your internal and external customers want and need, and responding to those needs and wants through various initiatives and clear comms.

So to answer your question, do your customers care whether you care about sustainability and social impact or not? Well, of course they bloody do – as should you. In the next video of this series will walk you through how to communicate your commitment to people and planet without being accused of greenwashing or purpose-washing, and in a way that raises your profile and enhances perception that your target customers have of you, your people, your business, and your brand.

Thank you for watching, and if you have any questions about ESG comms, just feel free to email me or get in touch with me via the contact form on the Clearly website.