Eight-out-of-10 corporate leaders believe companies now have an obligation to speak out on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, according to new research on brand advocacy conducted by GlobeScan and 3BL Media.
Survey findings include:
- 82 percent of respondents said it is necessary for companies today to advocate for or take a stand on ESG issues. Five percent said it was unnecessary.
- 62 percent felt that advocacy by CEOs, rather than by the company more broadly, will increase in the next 18 months.
- When asked to specify the three highest priorities for their organizations over the next 18 months, top responses were brand values, climate and environment, and diversity and inclusion, suggesting that companies will increasingly advocate for the values they stand for. Runners-up were governance policies on ethics and accountability, followed by STEM Education.
- Motivators for companies to take stands on ESG topics were to 1) enhance their reputation, 2) show a commitment beyond profit, and to 3) meet employee expectations.
- Benefits of speaking out are 1) personnel recruitment, 2) employee retention and 3) brand equity.
Eric Whan, a GlobeScan director who led the research team, characterized the findings as indicative of where things are going in brand advocacy.
“It’s early days for this movement. Ben & Jerry’s, Tom’s of Maine and Patagonia and others have been doing this for a while. Now others are finding that it is in their own interest and that of their stakeholders to take a position rather than ducking.” said Whan.
The implications of these findings are considerable:
- Expectations: Companies should expect their stakeholders to want to know where they stand on a growing number of increasingly complex issues. Corporate cultures, governance mechanisms and operational capacities will need to adjust quickly.
- Enablement: With more companies formalizing their approaches to advocacy by establishing policies and systems that guide how they execute, top executives will become more vociferous on matters that align with their company’s Purpose. They will feel more comfortable speaking out and will do so with sharper focus.
- Collaboration: We can expect the trend toward collective corporate advocacy (through coalitions such as Time to Vote or We Mean Business, for example) to accelerate, and the impact that they have to increase. There is comfort in numbers, especially when outcomes are clear.
Taking a cue from beloved consumer brands with a heritage of activism, a growing roster of Blue Chip companies are now using their powerful voices to urge continued U.S. support of the Paris Climate Agreement, to strengthen gun control laws, to fight immigration laws that would negatively impact Dreamers, to champion diversity and inclusion, and to protect LGBTQ rights, among other hot-button and often political issues.
That’s the beginning of brand activism.