Integrity, it is said, is doing the right thing when no one is looking. But in the world of business, where ESG and CSR are ever more important, it’s not enough just to do the right thing, you need to communicate to your customers that you are. But how do you ‘walk the tightrope’ of telling the world about the good you do without sounding like you are cynically exploiting your noble deeds?

‘It’s all in the nuance,’ says EveryFriday Client Partner Catherine Bourke, ‘in the keenness to get their stories out there, brands could very easily tip into chest beating. It’s key to keep messaging simple and always remember the end consumer. Tone is absolutely key – one whiff of manipulation and you’re doomed.’

Aldgate Square, London — Courtesy of Marshalls
The message is the medium

The industry leaders we spoke to for this piece agree. ‘As a corporate organisation it’s very easy to come across as arrogant or faceless,’ says Chris Harrop, Group Sustainability Director at Marshalls. ‘We try and talk to people from a place of really understanding what matters to a customer group or audience, and what are the most important standards and expectations around the issues that are important to them.’ Harrop has been working in ESG for almost 20 years and was awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to the prevention of modern slavery and exploitation. He boils the Marshalls messaging approach down thus, walking the tightrope is about ‘getting the right message to the right people, at the right time and in the right tone of voice. We try not to come across as too corporate and we try not to be flippant. We try to use our position to be thought leaders, but very much practically based. We don’t just say, “We think modern slavery is bad,” we say, “Look, here are the things we are doing to try and eliminate it from a supply chain…”’

Cristina Kenz, Chief Growth and Sustainability Officer at The Kraft Heinz Company also thinks it’s key that an organisation gets the tone right. ‘As a brand we never take ourselves too seriously. We’ll say something like, “Hey Houston, we have tomatoes!” but then we’ll explain about the study we undertook to explore the possibility of growing tomatoes on Mars, and how it will benefit our planet. We’ll explain that we did this study to learn, and how we’ll use this learning and apply it to problems here.’

Kenz also stresses that while a light touch can work well for consumers, a brand needs to be transparent in how it operates. ‘We strive to be transparent about where our starting points are and what we want to change. In everything we do, we work with experts, with scientists who understand data.’

Courtesy of Zerolla
Live the brand

Alessandro Rocchi at zero-impact cosmetic company Zerolla agrees that transparency matters, but so does being seen to live the values you are communicating to your customers. ‘We all have to consume things – what’s important is the consciousness we have about our consumption. I know my consumption has an impact on the environment so I try to be as plastic-free as I can be, in line with the products I sell.’

Rocchi regularly posts behind-the-scenes videos of how his soap and shampoo bars are made on Instagram. ‘Good content can show who’s behind a brand, how they do what they do. It’s a way for us to be as open as possible.’ He also welcomes customer feedback, ‘peer-to-peer recommendation is worth a massive advertising spend’ and uses negative feedback to lead changes when necessary – Zerolla adjusted the formulation of one of its shampoo bar when users complained it was too crumbly.

Users of a different kind inform the way in which FoodCycle communicates the good it does, in this case providing meals for those living in poverty and the isolated. ‘We try to be benefits-based in all our communications,’ says Carly Shutes, Head of Marketing. ‘We don’t talk about the negative reasons that people need our service, we talk about the benefits they gain from it. We tell our guests’ [service users] stories rather than our own, and also the stories of our volunteers. That way, we’re not shouting about the good work we’re doing in an abstract way but bringing personal stories to life. Our communications tap into real-life experiences rather than corporate messaging.’

Shutes believes this way of showcasing FoodCycle attracts corporate donors who are genuinely interested in working with the charity rather than those who are merely ‘charity box-ticking, which you can spot a mile off’ and works collaboratively with corporate partners who will send staff over to volunteer as well as donating money.

Sky — The Power of Belief
People power

EveryFriday recently took a people-led approach for its ‘The Power of Belief’ campaign for Sky, which was inspired by the brand’s promise, ‘Believe in Better.’ ‘We wanted to tell Sky’s stories in the most authentic way,’ says EveryFriday Founder and Executive Creative Director Dan Fernandez. ‘To do this we used ‘real people with real stories. Stories which we allowed to play out as naturally as possible and captured in cinematic quality to imbue Sky’s premium offering.’ Fernandez believes that by acting responsibly with these touching stories Sky could move a sceptical audience to feel warmer about Sky as an organisation and feel positively about the good work they do in society.

Like FoodCycle, Nurture Brands also take a benefits-based approach to its messaging. ‘If we launch a new snack, for example, we don’t just talk about the benefits such as that it’s high in fibre or a source of protein, we talk about its carbon neutrality as a benefit too,’ says Head of Marketing and Innovation Victoria Harrison. Unlike larger corporates Nuture Brands doesn’t have a dedicated sustainability team: ‘It’s intrinsic to everything we do within the business as well. Everyone owns it. The trick when talking about it is to avoid sounding too worthy or shouty.’

Rob Nicoll at sustainable material manufacturer Chip(s) Board also likes to talk about the benefits of sustainability, but prefers ‘to allude to the benefits of what we do, trying not to sound belligerent. It’s easy to slip into “green power preachy message” which really turns people off.’

Instead, Nicoll prefers cold, hard facts. ‘Maths and statistics are definitely your friends. We’ll say, “OK we can reduce the amount of carbon on our front end by 20 to 40 percent.” And obviously our customers speak in numbers so they get it. We’ve all seen these charity videos of forests on fire and birds caught in oil slicks. That’s not what we’re about. We will simply give extremely black and white benefits.’

In the same vein, Kenz at The Kraft Heinz Company says brands must ‘back up everything you say with data and prove you have the systems to drive change.’
‘Show your accreditations and how you are benchmarked – get your standards validated by a third-party – and let the figures talk for themselves,’ says Harrop.

Courtesy of Chip(s) Board
Get the story right

When communicating about the good your company is doing, be it your sustainable credentials, a charity initiative or a new product launch EveryFriday’s Fernandez advises putting ‘a creative idea at the heart of what you do. Tell your story in a genuine, authentic way…’

Echoing the likes of Kenz at The Kraft Heinz Company and Zerolla’s Rocchi, Fernandez also believes ‘transparency really matters.’

Bourke adds that it is vital to find the nuance between the story you want to tell and how your audience will perceive it. ‘Who are we doing this for? What are they going to feel? What do we want them to do?’ She says she is lucky to have ‘clients who are doing amazing things in the corporate good space and want to talk about it. My job is to hold their hand as they walk the tightrope between proudly telling their stories and slipping towards showing off.