Back in January 2020, Nasdaq President and CEO Adena Friedman predicted the year might be the “tipping point” for ESG. While the world then saw 12 months (and continuing) of unprecedented and unexpected disruption and devastation through the COVID-19 pandemic, this investment trend did not fade away. In fact, according to our new report, media coverage of ESG investment trebled over the last 15 months.
This rapid increase in media focus, reflecting investor, corporate, and consumer interest in all things ESG, brings with it more opportunities to connect with interested audiences, but also more competition and therefore the need to differentiate. As we’ve all seen and experienced, people are spending more time online than ever before while many of us continue to work from home. So how asset managers ‘communicate ESG’ online needs to support and amplify the messages they’re promoting elsewhere.
Here are 5 things to consider when it comes to marketing your ESG story online:
1) Don’t put ESG in a corner; reassess and integrate your firm’s purpose
Skip the marketing spiel and broad-brush commitments to sustainability, social impact and good governance. The media – and other audiences – is wise to such messages that hold little meaning, and ‘greenwashing’ is a top concern when it comes to a firm’s marketing and communications. Define what ESG means for your firm, at both fund and corporate level, then embrace the mantra ‘show not tell’. For example:
Committed to divestment away from carbon? Forget a ton of printed collateral. Think about how you can communicate with your audiences digitally, using video and other engaging formats.
Emphasizing your focus on social impact? Make sure this translates down to your people and culture, including consciously considering diversity and inclusion when it comes to who you promote and amplify as your spokespeople.
2) Show me the data
As explained in the report, journalists “want data and proof points, and are suspicious of any slick presentation.” This rule applies beyond media outreach; visually showing your data front and center on your website and other digital channels helps catch audiences’ attention and build trust (something we’ve seen evidenced in a number of marketing campaigns we’ve run over the last year). Use data visualization to demonstrate your commitment to and progress on ESG measures, transparently and credibly, whether fund performance, ESG scores or investment percentages.
Beyond your own data, find ways to use your owned digital channels to source the opinions and experiences of investors. There are, surprisingly to us, not too many classic surveys from the AMs we reviewed for this report. As a first step, use social Q&As, digital questionnaires and webinar polls to collect quick data points around ESG, from attitudes to ESG data and measurement, to what the biggest challenges are for users in 2021.
3) Amplify the diverse voices of your spokespeople, online
Some journalists questioned whether they were always offered the right spokespeople for commentary on ESG, with one commenting, “I would rather speak with someone in a position of authority to make an investment decision, like a CIO or a head of equities.” Make sure all of your spokespeople are empowered and encouraged to speak about ESG––this comes back to firm purpose, and then communicating that internally.
Especially on social media, your team is the face of your firm and able to talk about ESG authentically with their own connections and networks, beyond the official voice of the brand. This reinforces the commitment you, as a team, are making and helps to amplify the expertise of your people. Give clear guidance around how and what to share; a clear social policy and advocacy tool are key here to manage employee activation with compliance.
4) Have the bigger conversations
We uncovered a particular concern regarding an information imbalance, with one journalist in Europe saying, “we mostly get fund information or information about the proposition of the fund manager, and much less about thought leadership or the future of ESG investing. Good thought leadership is generally lacking.” While it’s important to clearly showcase and communicate fund information, news and updates (both to the media and on your owned digital channels), there’s a gap here for genuine, forward-looking thought leadership.
As we state in the opening lines of the report, “this is the time for asset managers to differentiate themselves decisively: picking credible “lanes” and delivering quality insights around the big themes in ESG”. Map your business and fund priorities alongside what the media is talking about and use additional digital analysis to help you find opportunities to claim SOV. Keyword research (using tools like SEMrush or Moz for example) can help identify specific topic areas of interest to investors, that others may not be talking about yet: an opportunity to create content that expresses your POV and provides an answer to those users.
5) Keep it real (life and time)
Creating a piece of content or data visualization, however engaging, is not enough if left alone. The macro, real-world challenges at the heart of ESG––climate change, social injustice and inequality, poor governance and corporate scandal––are not static. Last year we saw a global pandemic transform normal life as most of us knew it, drawing connections and parallels to the future impact of climate change, while the collective human response showed a potential pathway to similar action in support of the environment. This is one, very clear, example of a conversation firms serious in their commitment to ESG cannot ignore.
At a local level, social protests across the US, deforestation in South America, wildfires in Australia and a corporate scandal at UK-based fast fashion brand Boohoo are all examples of the real-world importance and impact of ESG. Firms need to at the very least be aware of these (start with online listening and social monitoring in addition to media monitoring), and ideally plan ahead as to when and how they will respond. Not every conversation needs an active contribution. But ignoring all of these micro-conversations and real ESG moments shows a lack of genuine interest beyond the high-level marketing messages.
Jade Bestley is a vice president in New York