The brand value of getting ESG strategy right

In our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) whitepaper, we took an in-depth look at the impact of putting the consumer at the heart of ESG strategy. Our proprietary consumer research in the UK and US showed that to deliver successful ESG strategies, companies need to diligently choose the right initiatives, be authentic in how they are communicated, and invest wisely to reach and impact enough people.

In this blog from Ines, we look at the brand value of getting ESG right.

1/ Choose the right ESG initiatives that align with consumer expectations

Our consumer-centric framework shows how businesses can navigate the consumer-facing elements of their ESG strategies and ensure they identify the right initiatives. It’s important to hone in on activities that drive meaningful engagement with your customers in the context of your category. Not managing to get this right means lost opportunities for your brand and lower return on ROI.

For example, in the food and beverage sector, packaging and animal cruelty ranked in the top five most important ESG factors, whereas in the financial services sector, employee fairness and data protection & security were in the top five.

2/ Be authentic to build trust and credibility

Consumer literacy is increasing across a broad range of topics within the ESG landscape – from global warming and climate change to gender diversity and inclusion. Businesses need to be genuine in their values and transparent in their actions. Consumers also want to understand the impact you are having and feel confident that you are making a positive difference. The very best initiatives will keep the customer investment in time, money or change low.

For example, the UK grocery retailer Iceland came under fire in early 2019 after it removed its own name from 17 products in order to keep its vow of replacing palm oil from 100% of its own products by 2018. While the intention was undoubtedly good, the decision not to be open and honest about its inability to hit the year end deadline was met by public animosity.

3 / Ensure campaigns deliver your objectives  

In our research we tested the awareness and appeal of a range of different real world ESG initiatives from companies such as Timberland and Aviva in the UK and Macy’s and Walmart in the US. We learned that once made aware of ESG initiatives, around 50% of consumers felt more positive towards a brand. However, some of the initiatives that had the greatest impact on consumer sentiment had the lowest consumer awareness.

For example, Macy’s launched its social purpose platform, ‘Mission Every One’, committing to spend $5 billion by 2025 to create a more equitable and sustainable future, focusing on goals around sustainable raw materials, workers’ rights and waste and emission reduction. Only 19% of those we surveyed were aware of this initiative. However, once reading the case study, 59% felt more positive towards the brand.

Our whitepaper provides compelling evidence that effective ESG strategy can drive brand value, but that this value is being left on the table by brands that don’t communicate what they do effectively. Business does have the potential to make a genuine difference to the lives of consumers, society and – importantly – the future health and wealth of their brands.

Read more of our ESG strategy blogs:

Allan Chen illuminates consumer attitudes and behaviours towards ESG.

Dan Cooper lets you avoid the pitfalls of ESG Strategy.


CSR, ESG, Strategy