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What Is ESG Marketing? A Sustainable Approach to Drive Brand Awareness

Published on December 14, 2021

A corporate ESG content strategy puts brands at a competitive advantage.

ESG marketing is the activity of promoting the material environmental, social and governance attributes of a company’s strategy to its investors, buyers and other stakeholders in alignment with corporate purpose and mission. A company’s ESG marketing message builds its brand equity, financial worth and potential for true social impact.

Consumer habits have taken on a sustainable tilt in the post-pandemic landscape, and most investors have adopted ESG principles in the last five years. The rulebook is still being written on responsible investing, so guiding a brand’s corporate purpose will provide clear product differentiation.

Public relations and content marketing can shine a light on authentic, impactful sustainability efforts and communicate their impact, connecting with the consumer’s deeply held values, a process we call purpose branding.

How to Tell an ESG Story

Putting ESG principles into practice attracts investors and impact-conscious customers. Sustainable funds have consistently set investment records, according to Morningstar. Younger generations of investors have an eye for responsible brands, with almost two-thirds of Millennial investors highly interested in sustainable investing.

The real challenge lies in turning the ideological into the material. Just as operational teams work to better understand ESG, marketing and communication teams must understand ESG materiality, the factors that have the greatest impact on financial performance. By helping people discover more about the purpose behind a brand, marketing provides greater differentiation from competitors and highlights key brand attributes and benefits.

Distilling brand impact in a brand-building strategy connects and engages a target audience with corporate purpose. ESG investors and caring customers alike respond to concise, consistent, and transparent corporate practices that prioritize real results over lofty declarations.

ESG Marketing and Public Relations

Is Conscious Capitalism ‘Woke’?

ESG faces the charge of “woke capitalism,” a decarbonization debate that has expanded into a broad critique of corporate activism. The political discourse on ESG is largely unfocused, which gives organizations an opportunity to frame the discussion around business objectives.

Delivering a clear ESG message is crucial in securing legislative and regulatory approvals. Staying silent on ESG is a missed opportunity to communicate an organization’s risk management practices and its commitment to stakeholders.

Companies should focus their attention on responsible practices that align with regulatory requirements, lower direct financial risk and provide opportunities for innovation and growth. Showcasing the business practices, brand values and initiatives behind a corporate ESG plan will build internal and external credibility and trust.

Consider the following ESG marketing strategies to shape marketing efforts and tell the brand’s ESG story:

  • Refine the brand’s central values and redefine the company mission statement to match. Follow-through is key: Once employees understand corporate leaders aren’t just talking the talk, they’ll be more effective in implementing ESG-positive intentions and actions.
  • Be proactive, consistent, and transparent in working towards ESG goals. Investors and customers will hold the brand accountable to its stated ESG goals, so give them information to confirm the outcomes every step of the way.
  • Know how to measure a brand’s ESG success and don’t be afraid to share results. Establishing a framework to measure ESG is a great first step towards quantifying social impact and deliberately working towards sustainability commitments. Develop a set of KPIs that best fit ESG goals. Share the company’s progress; these are still early days for establishing ESG best practices.

Diversity Marketing and Public Relations

ESG PR and Content Marketing

A deliberate marketing approach brings a brand’s ESG strengths in view of the right customers and investors. ESG public relations and content marketing efforts should focus on results that matter for specific audiences:

  • Public relations efforts should reflect how the company’s ESG values lower operating or financing costs and raise revenues or asset values. Approach investor feedback and questions with a thoughtful, robust response and outreach strategy. Highlighting the material aspect of ESG initiatives and reminding them of the ways corporate purpose continues to influence day-to-day operations. Current events can also be used to PR advantage; initiatives established during the COP26 climate conference present a perfect opportunity to communicate corporate purpose to a global audience.
  • Content marketing campaigns can provide more depth to an ESG story. The extended format of articles written for a business publication or corporate blog will show how corporate purpose has evolved, and how the company vets, verifies and validates its efforts with key performance indicators. Take care to avoid exaggerating or “woke washing” ESG impact. It’s easy to jeopardize the integrity of corporate purpose by overpromising and underdelivering, so be sure to communicate authentically but accurately.

What Are ESG Brand Values?

ESG’s business materiality should be reflected in brand values. ESG brand values typically are aligned with overall corporate values. The hallmarks of ESG brand values are:

  • Inclusivity in hiring practices and leadership diversity.
  • Sustainability in day-to-day operations and long-term goals.
  • Equity in shareholder attention and employee recognition.
  • Transparency in impact assessment and customer communication.

Every business is connected to environmental, social and governance issues. Implementing and marketing ESG efforts simply means that a brand has the self-awareness to recognize its place in the world and the ambition to improve on it.

Companies, like countries, need to be purpose-driven and energized in the face of environmental, social and governance issues. Tell the public how they can help leverage brand resources to protect the planet, then lead by example. After all, what’s more important than working together to make the world a better place?

Fortune 500 Marketing

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