“This is not any longer a nice-to-have, but it’s critical to long-term stakeholder confidence, investor confidence. This is a new asset class,” is what the attendees of a webinar for the launch of a new ESG initiative by The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA)¹ were told in October 2020. If one of the most powerful lobbies globally can admit the importance of its antipode, then you need no other proof about what the future holds.
According to a report from the US SIF Foundation², at the beginning of 2018, American investors held $11.6 trillion in ESG assets, up from $8.1 trillion in 2016. Looking at the European landscape, the total assets committed to sustainable investment strategies exceeded €12 trillion in 2018, 46% of the global total.³ The growth continued in 2019 and 2020 as well.
With Generations Y and Z in the spotlight, consideration of ESG criteria alongside financial factors becomes increasingly important. According to Morgan Stanley’s Sustainable Signals⁴ white paper, 85% of the general population and 95% of Millennials are interested in sustainable investing.
Younger investors are driven by objectives like integration, value, and impact. Both Millenials and their successors are future-focused, passion-oriented, and aspiring to make a difference. They are constantly seeking more out of their investments, and we are not even talking about money.
Over the next twenty to thirty years, Generation Y could put between $15 and $20 trillion into US-domiciled ESG investments, which would roughly double the size of the US equity market.⁵
And if you want a piece of that pie, you better stand out in the crowd.
Nowadays, people are putting more effort into giving back to society and nature in every aspect of their day-to-day life. The available sustainability-focused assets allow them to do so when investing. However, they need guidance. And you should be the one educating and navigating them through the world of ESG investments.
The case of BlackRock and what the world’s biggest asset manager can teach you about ESG communication
Launched in 1988 with a team of just 8 people, today, BlackRock is the world’s biggest asset manager with 70 offices in 30 countries and $9.5 trillion of assets under management (AUM)⁶.$9.5 trillion of assets under management (AUM)⁶. Furthermore, it plays a key role in the boardrooms of nearly 1 800 companies and its stance influences even political domains.
The big influence, however, goes hand-to-hand with major responsibility. Every move of the company is now monitored under a microscope. This makes it a perfect example to show how asset managers should communicate and conduct their marketing activities.
BlackRock’s change of heart
In January 2020, the largest asset manager became the largest sustainable investor. The 2020 Annual Letter⁷ of BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink was a pivotal moment not only for his firm but also for its portfolio constituents, competitors, and even the financial industry as a whole.
BlackRock’s transformation started by committing to divest from companies that derive over 25% of their revenue from thermal coal. It also promised to push firms to make climate and sustainability disclosures aligned with established guidelines.
What is more important is that the asset manager followed through on its pledge. As a result, in the first half of 2020, over 50 companies, including Chevron and ExxonMobil, felt BlackRock’s disapproval over their lack of progress on climate change. Coal-related firms saw BlackRock’s investments shrinking by up to 30%. Over 190 other companies had been put “on watch” by the asset manager and might follow the same faith.
BlackRock’s push continued in 2021 when it warned dozens of firms that its support is conditional on their progress on individual climate change commitments.
Why was BlackRock’s stance so important?
BlackRock wasn’t the first ESG advocate. In fact, financial service providers like MSCI had been doing this for decades. Also, BlackRock joined Climate Action 100+⁸, an initiative launched in 2017 urging the largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to act against climate change, only in 2020. Furthermore, it isn’t even going all-out in its ESG efforts, unlike the group of 30 financial firms⁹, including Schroders and Fidelity International, that pledged to only invest in companies with net-zero emissions by 2050.
So, if others are doing more, how did BlackRock become the face of the ESG revolution? There are two reasons – its scale and its communication efforts.
Regarding the importance of such a market leader becoming an ESG advocate, Tim Buckley, director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), said that “the lead sheep has moved, the pack is shuffling, and very shortly, the herd will stampede.”
But being the biggest or most influential isn’t necessarily a guarantee for success. For example, years after the Task-Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)¹⁰ released guidelines for reporting climate-related risks and opportunities, companies still don’t provide the necessary information.
Neither oversight authorities and governmental organizations nor asset managers have succeeded in the way BlackRock has. The reason is that the way the company has been communicating its new approach to climate change has made it stick into people’s minds as the most prominent advocate of sustainable investing.
“The lead sheep has moved, the pack is shuffling, and very shortly, the herd will stampede.”
5 tips to take from BlackRock’s communication strategy and apply to your business
- 1. Walk the talk
Creating too much buzz without any practical application may backfire and shape a negative public image for your company. BlackRock is successful because it doesn’t limit itself only to divesting from fossil fuels. It also invests in renewables, holds companies responsible, advocates for public change, puts pressure on governments and corporates to up their game, undertakes different initiatives, and more.
- 2. Spread the word
Once you start spending enough effort, it’s equally essential to make that public. Be there to talk about your actions and what change you think they will result in.
- 3. Don’t get carried away
It is important to avoid overdoing it. Always keep your communication clear and concise. BlackRock’s famous letter has stuck in people’s minds with a single sentence – “Climate risk is investment risk.” This epitomizes everything they do – mitigating investment risks, consequently increasing the returns, while making a positive change.
- 4. Be honest and open
You shouldn’t be afraid to admit to the public if you have made a 180-degree turn in your investment approach. BlackRock is known for being a long-time fossil fuel investor. Even to date, it holds positions that aren’t ESG-aligned. However, the company is positioning itself as the wind of change that all of its investors, partners, and the industry as a whole must follow. Bear in mind that investors reward honesty. Even if you have long been backing opportunities that go against the new sustainability trend, just admit it and focus on the transformation you are undergoing. This will strengthen your bond with existing clients and help you attract new ones.
- 5. Every effort counts
Don’t forget that no one expects your organization to unleash a new trend that will overtake the whole market. BlackRock and other companies had already done that. Instead, show that you are proactive and doing your part in what proves to be the new reality on financial markets. Because even minor contributions are widely appreciated by the global community and the financial industry. In the end, we are all marching towards a common goal, so nobody would judge how much you contribute to it if you just do.
How to bring this transition into your organization
Younger investors are showing great interest in putting their savings where their values are. They need to be made aware of how virtuous an investment choice may be before jumping in.
Increasing visibility of ESG products, grabbing the attention, and ensuring trust are the main challenges in front of asset managers and their teams.
Marketing for the tech-savvy, digital generation is an uphill battle. Nowadays, people are looking for an emotional connection with brands, yet it is difficult for them to build loyalty. Effective neuroscience defines four basic human drives that promote human survival and support the full range of human emotions:
- Contentment – Minimise harm and risk for the body;
- Nurturance – Facilitate social connection;
- Seeking – Reward curiosity, survival abilities, and excitement for achieving the desired goals;
- Assertiveness – Ensure freedom of action.
Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands leverage these insights to balance human emotions, appeal to our drives, and meet our needs. It should be the same with sustainability and socially responsible investment.
What finance marketers need is to create the same impact and embrace the full range of human emotions. It’s the human emotion that motivates us, after all. Humanizing the voice of the corporation is getting closer to your audience. And your audience is now everywhere online.
An integrated communication strategy is the way to ensure consistency of your message across all channels and align communication with business objectives. You should pay attention to what your company’s website, core message, and brand content are telling clients. And what’s more – how engaging your marketing assets are.
Website product offerings
Your website is the core of your digital marketing communication. It is a best practice to dedicate a separate website section for your ESG products and use it as a landing page for all related marketing initiatives.
Whether investors seek ESG products to mitigate risk and increase performance or for the sake of making a positive impact, your marketing must address what they want to buy and not what you want to sell.
- Don’t try to make the same investment option appealing for all your target customers.
- Differentiate sustainable investments from their counterparts in the traditional investment sector to drive interest.
- Find out what your audience truly cares about and target those needs in your offerings.
- Explain how investors’ money is actually making a difference.
- Don’t forget that a company’s performance is still a key factor in investment decisions. Look for ways to showcase how your firm’s ESG efforts translate into excellent returns and better risk mitigation.
Content marketing with focus on video
Marketers should leverage storytelling, presenting the benefits of sustainable investing as another way to apply your values to everyday life. Emphasizing that investors can indeed “do well by doing good” is vital for ESG products’ marketing.
Content marketing ensures awareness and brand positioning while showing expertise and building trust. Focus on values-driven motivational stories, showcasing your products through case studies, infographics, employee testimonials, expert articles, white papers, etc.
Stay authentic by keeping it informational, not promotional.
Focus on video creation as the most convenient tool to convey your message. It has the power to affect and touch on a personal level through visual stimulation and can be reused in all your marketing channels.
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of visual storytelling, you can read our recent article on why you should market your investment fund with a video.
Social media for the socially engaged
Although the growth of time spent on social media is slowing down, YPulse reports¹¹that Gen Z spends almost 4.5 hours a day on social media and Millennials – an average of around 3.8 hours.
Regular social media communication and dedicated campaigns can complement your marketing communication by positioning you where your audiences are.
Social media is primarily a place where visitors seek entertainment. Selling on social media should focus on the emotional drivers rather than the rational ones. Create a clear and consistent messaging strategy by building a narrative around tangible change and making an impact on areas your investors care about most.
E-mail marketing is not dead
Create a deeper connection with your audience by educating them on ESG investing. A monthly newsletter can be an excellent way to keep in touch while sharing winning strategies backed by robust ESG data, revealing opportunities, analyzing trends, and more.
Think carefully about the structure and content of your e-mails. Keep it short and attractive. Today’s audience has a short attention span.
Include only a call to action that would benefit society, not your company, to keep people away from that “Unsubscribe” button.
Put your social responsibility on display
In his book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need”, Bill Gates addresses the reader with the words “I hope you’ll spend more time and energy supporting whatever you’re in favour of than opposing whatever you’re against.”
This quote holds the truth about publicity.
Prioritize the communication of your investment approach, utilizing ESG awareness to create a strong driver for brand engagement and loyalty. Being an example yourself, put your effort into creating a strong narrative on your engagement in ESG to connect with like-minded investors.
Shape the desired public perception with relevant media coverage and increase your company’s visibility while engaging with social responsibility and sustainability causes. The BlackRock case study above is the perfect example.