As we’ve seen from our media analysis in our previous post, the public discussion and scrutiny around greenwashing is only increasing. So, effectively communicating your brand’s environmental sustainability strategy will be an essential part of your role for the foreseeable future, if not forever! You need to get it right if you want to build a solid brand reputation and avoid greenwashing accusations.
Your success will depend on three crucial things:
- How well you know your stakeholder groups
- How well your comms strategy is aligned to your ESG strategy
- How authentically you communicate with the media and other stakeholders
In this blog post, we’re digging into ‘how well you know your stakeholder groups’.
SUCCESS PART ONE: Know your stakeholder groups
The good news is that there’s growing acknowledgement that embedding a robust environmental sustainability strategy doesn’t happen overnight. However, identifying and understanding the different stakeholder groups that impact, shape, and influence your business – whether that’s consumers or regulators – will ultimately enable you to have greater control of your brand reputation.
Your environmental sustainability claims will be scrutinized from different angles by these stakeholder groups. Each stakeholder group will be looking out for specific messages to satisfy their priorities and concerns. So how do you create a comms strategy that satisfies the needs of all your key stakeholder groups and helps you to build a credible and transparent environmental brand reputation?
Do your research (over and over again)
You must show how your environmental sustainability efforts align with your stakeholders’ priorities. That means understanding what they want and how they perceive your brand. It’s not enough to rely on your judgement about what messages will and won’t land well – opinions and behaviors change.
Be bold enough to challenge
If it doesn’t seem genuine or feels misinformed, question it. You need to be your company’s harshest critic. Let’s say a food brand asks its comms team to seek media coverage to promote how it’s using local ingredients to reduce its carbon footprint. Great right? Not quite. You need to consider the wider picture before taking this message public. What about the packaging and processes that suppliers are using to create and deliver the product – what environmental impact is that making? This level of scrutiny will be applied by environmental journalists and other stakeholders. Get into the details to ensure that no element of greenwashing (intentional or not) is taking place before pressing ‘send’ on the press release.
Get inspired – don’t copy
Monitor competitor activity consistently. What environmental issues are driving them and how are they successfully communicating that in the mainstream and social media? This doesn’t mean you should copy what your competitors are doing. You must be driven by your own purpose and commitment. But use their success to positively inspire and influence your comms strategy.
Pre-empt tough questions
It’s your job to protect your brand and that means pre-empting the tough questions that skeptical stakeholders might ask. To do this, you need a clear picture of what messages and initiatives (yours and your competitors) have caused negative sentiment in the past. Look at how others have responded. What worked well to appease audiences and what developed into a comms crisis? By understanding this, you’ll know which messages to avoid, be prepared with robust responses, and understand where a course correction might be needed.
Implement environmental horizon scanning
The role of comms professionals has significantly evolved in the past few years. Your ability to be responsive to the latest environmental issues plays a large role in your overall business value. Having your finger on the pulse of changing markets, shifting stakeholder expectations, and tying your brand’s messaging into these in an authentic and relevant way is crucial. If you can anticipate opportunities and events that your business can align to or potential crises facing your industry, you can proactively prepare and act.
Demonstrate your value
It’s vital to demonstrate how the environmental action your company’s taking is making a reputational impact and performing against competitors. This level of reporting is invaluable for influencing wider environmental sustainability strategy and validating the importance of your team.
How do you get to know your stakeholders?
Your environmental comms strategy (and wider ESG strategy) should be driven by extensive stakeholder group analysis. This needs to leverage historical and real-time data to:
- Understand what topics and issues are important to them,
- Understand how they’ve responded to different environmental communications in the past,
- Identify how they perceive your brand as individual groups and as a collective ,
- Achieve a single source of truth for measuring your brand reputation
By looking at what’s driving positive or negative sentiment about your brand across each of your key stakeholder groups, you can gain a clear picture of what resonates and what fails to hit the mark. This information is your kryptonite! Use it to identify correlations between the campaigns you’ve executed and the reputational peaks and troughs they’ve caused, benchmark against your competitors, and ultimately focus your team’s time and resource on the areas which will have the greatest impact on your brand reputation.
Be prepared to repeat this process regularly and adapt your strategy as stakeholder priorities and behaviors change.