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What we learned at <i>Canadian Business'</i> ESG Masterclass with Phillip Haid

Written by
SJC Team

Canadian Business has brought us yet another insightful virtual fireside chat for brands, this one focusing on the most effective ways to communicate ESG brand storytelling. (ESG as a marketing mainstay is one of our 2022 Media & Marketing Trends.)

On June 22, 2022, SJC Media's Vice President of Digital Solutions and Business Development Jason Maghanoy spoke with Phillip Haid, Founder & CEO of social impact agency Public inc., to discuss how to define and communicate an ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) strategy.

While we invite you to watch the full recording,  we've rounded up the top takeaways for your convenience:

Key Takeaway

Effective ESG communications requires a unique and authentic POV.

When it comes to a clear strategy for ESG, brands often resist a unique point of view (POV), or don’t develop one, which makes it hard to break through in the marketplace.

Problem: How do you communicate your ESG commitment as a brand? How do you get people to pay attention?

Solution: The more unique or authentic POV you have as a brand, the easier it will be to stand out.

To help you get started, let's look at Phillip Haid's 10 principles to finding your brand's POV and forming a strategy to communicate your ESG effectively.

10 Principles

Use these core principles to create and communicate an effective ESG strategy.

1. Find Your Sweet Spot

Connecting your ESG isn't easy. Each business has a unique focus with many moving facets. To create an overarching idea for your ESG, you need to find the connective tissue that links your commitments. That connection (sweet spot) is found in your values, culture, and origin story.

2. Have a Point of View

To differentiate your ESG communications, you need to create an authentic POV that cuts across all of your activities and commitments. This is often overlooked, but it is the most critical component to help with differentiation and ownability.

3. Be Specific

Generic language is the killer to effective communications. "Supporting communities", "Reducing our impact", "Bettering the planet" are all examples of generic language that won't set your ESG apart. It also reduces the consumers' confidence in your efforts.

How are you supporting communities and which ones? Why are you reducing your impact? What are you doing to better the planet? Specificity matters.

4. Embrace Transparency

It's not easy to be honest about where you are; to impart what you have and haven't accomplished. But more than ever, consumers, employees and partners are looking for openness and honesty when it comes to your ESG efforts.

5. Be Simple

It's easy to get caught up in using industry or sector jargon. But for even those in the know, simple, clear language that states your commitments and actions wins the day. You want people to personally relate to what you are doing and the simpler you make it to understand, the more easily they will remember and share it with others.

6. Be Selective

There is a tendency to want to share everything you are doing on ESG (especially when you are proud of your commitments and actions) with internal and external audiences. But people generally can't hold on to a lot of information that they didn't create.

Be selective in how much you share and when you share it.

7. Use Your Voice/Soapbox

Advocating for issues you care about (beyond the actions you take) is an effective way to engage employees and consumers in your ESG efforts. It's increasingly expected and can attract media to your brand.

8. Make Your Product/Service the Story

It's not always possible, but when your product or service leans into your ESG efforts, it's a winning strategy. Products and services that benefit people and planet is a win-win from both a business and communications perspective.

9. Measure Your Impact

Storytelling is key but measurable results are the biggest aid. Knowing what's working and communicating your effectiveness is ultimately what people want to know. Build measurement into both your ESG commitments and your communications efforts.

"If you are serious about communicating your ESG, you need to know not just your outputs, but your outcomes. Are you actually having the impact you are seeking out to achieve?" - Phillip Haid, Founder & CEO of Public inc.

10. Play the Long Game

It's not easy to break through with your ESG efforts. And it's not easy to weather the storm when stakeholders criticize your efforts. But those that play the long game and stick with their ESG efforts will win. Authenticity and commitment comes with time.

7-point action plan

Follow these concrete step for implementing your ESG strategy, including defining, branding and measuring.
What steps should we be taking to be effective with our ESG?

1. Define your purpose

Clarity on your purpose – why you exist in the world, beyond profits and grounded in humanity – is critical because everything you do from an ESG perspective should ladder up.

2. Define your brand

Brand positioning is critical because your ESG idea should be aligned and an extension of your brand promise. Defining a brand positioning includes:

  • Clarity on your audiences
  • What makes you unique
  • Benefit to your audiences

3. Position your ESG idea

To give coherence and simplicity to your ESG efforts, it's important to create an overarching idea that connects your E-S-G. The connective tissue is the positioning idea and is usually developed from on of your core values, cultural behaviours, or origin story. Developing your ESG idea requires:

  • Analysis of your values and culture
  • Alignment between your purpose, vision, mission, and values
  • Identification of a problem
  • Articulation of a solution and POV

4. Frame your ESG activities

Once you have positioned your ESG, the next step is to frame all your activities - usually within three pillars.

Key is to create clarity on the core pillars of activities and commitments and communicate them in a differentiated and authentic way.

5. Brand your ESG

Once you have positioned and framed your ESG platform, it's now time to brand it. Usually this includes:

  • Name for your ESG platform
  • Narrative/manifesto
  • Branded look
  • Key messages
  • ESG brand assets (video, case studies, social posts, reports, etc.)

6. Activate your top initiatives

To engage key audiences in your ESG efforts, it's important to create a plan for the year. Map the key moments in the year to communicate with greater effort and resources as well as your "always on" communications. A plan would include:

  • Audience identification and engagement opportunities
  • Thought leadership
  • Episodic communication
  • Always-on communication
  • Events

7. Measure your effectiveness

To know whether your ESG communications are working, it is important to set a baseline, measure and track your outputs and outcomes, including:

  • Reach
  • Awareness
  • Engagement
  • Brand equity and loyalty
  • Net promoter score
  • Consideration
  • Employee recruitment/retention

"This is a principle but also a practice. You need to know what is working and what is not, and how you can tweak it." - Phillip Haid, Founder & CEO of Public inc.

Finding and honing your ESG strategy takes time, but with Phillip Haid's principles and some practical steps to take, it is achievable for any brand looking to improve in this space.

Want to learn more from CB Insider's virtual fireside chats? Watch them here.
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