Communicating sustainability: brands chase after people


Brands should put themselves into their stakeholders’ shoes and increasingly activate circular communications

In the content shock age, with so many contents exceeding the time and effort we can spend on them, corporate communication should perform “a radical change”. With this remark Rossella Sobrero, president at Ferpi, opened the recent workshop by CSR Manager Network about the effective use of web and social media for communicating Corporate Social Responsibility.

Communication – as well as economy – is now circular, as any content and message feed a wide and multidirectional conversation, where boundaries among tools and channels are fading away. Brands look for new ways to be paid attention, putting themselves into their stakeholders’ shoes and even adapting their storytelling to people-like narrative patterns. “In the digital era we have people who behave like brands, and brands that communicate like people”, said James Osborne, head of sustainability at Lundquist.

As for sustainability, examples of personal branding include the green activist Greta Thunberg, the Italian journalist Paola Maugeri, David Katz, founder of Plastic Bank, Marco Alverà, CEO at Snam. They have a deep knowledge of their target audience and monitor the most relevant trends, have the right competence to create quality contents and distribute them through cost-effective channels, keep up engagement, succeed in growing relations and position themselves as authoritative sources and microinfluencers within their community. In a few words, they know how to apply content marketing principles.

Brands follow more or less the same path but, while looking for more genuineness and increased stakeholders’ engagement, have begun to communicate like people.

This means for instance giving a face and a voice to their employees. An interesting example comes from the insurance company Generali: after the Storymaker Club experience, they have just launched an employer branding program, where staff is engaged in recruiting talents and potential colleagues (see Il Sole 24 Ore, February 15th 2020). Even CEOs can – specifically, should – be brand ambassadors. According to 2019, 71% of Italian CEOs are active on LinkedIN, but only 28% use this platform for corporate contents.

Brands also need to adjust their tone of voice. By dressing contents and messages, it defines corporate or brand personality and character. Similarly to what happens to individuals, businesses are being recognised by their communication and relationship style. Brands should therefore abandon corporate lexicon and find an authentic touch, in step with the audience, fit for emotion and some entertainment.

Not easy at all, as the organisation should consider its identity, story, and competition too. Thus, Ceres chose irony as its distinctive tone, Eni changed its usual narrative style for the +1 campaign, Save the Duck unveiled its sustainability strategy by presenting the world as its home (“quite an open space”).

If communication is circular, brands have learnt that, although original or disruptive, their storytelling can’t be as effective as people-generated contents. You might better be inspired.