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  • Liz Whitaker

A Solution to the S in ESG (or no more 'Effing banks ...')

So says the brilliant Melanie Reid (tetraplegic since 2010) in her Times Spinal column expressing the frustration of dealing with banks (and other big organisations). Although referring to challenges for older and vulnerable people, it's a sentiment many of us would support while stuck on hold/working our way through a list of options none of which apply/not being able to speak to a real person etc. Moving to these solutions as part of corporate communications is not, IMO, a sign of growth or success. It's a sign of not being bothered and therefore a critical turning point on the way to corporate failure. Also see the Wetherspoons story re the smartly dressed elderly gentleman who’d gone for a post-lockdown drink but ignored by staff because he hadn’t downloaded the app? 227,543 people viewed that LinkedIn post and 6,868 left comments. Whatever the circumstances, it’s rubbish reputation management to think that these people don’t count. Or that any people don't count. Imagine if that man was your Dad or your Grandad. They are our family, our friends, our neighbours (and big influencers in the case of Melanie Reid). What so many organisations forgot is that people buy from people, and they always will.

Which brings me to the S in ESG. Social criteria, a little bit ignored itself atm as the focus is on the E. Now business critical, not nice-to-have, all organisations will soon succeed or fail based on how investors, employees, clients and others rate their ESG performance. There is no exemption. Social criteria is how an organisation manages relationships with its stakeholders - employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates.

  • Start by outlining all the stakeholder groups your business relies upon. Look beyond the obvious (and my bet is you'll be astonished how many there are). Three most neglected groups are alumni (including the invisible army of Ambassadors in the pension scheme), suppliers current and future (best example here is still the Tyrells Tesco story) and all those people whose applications for jobs are so rudely rejected or ignored.

  • Next, further subdivide those stakeholder groups so you can better plan how to design the best possible relationship.

  • Assign someone in your organisation with the responsibility of designing and managing that relationship. Please, not HR. Btw, I'm seeing an growing number of organisations recruiting for senior people with job titles like Head of Stakeholder Engagement.

  • Work with your best people to look at how those stakeholders 'touch' your business, we call them touchpoints. You will be amazed at how many and, importantly, how many are invisible, how many you don't control or have lost control of. We use a standard checklist of 100 and add in those unique to individual clients.

  • Put people at the front of these touchpoints EVERYTIME. By introducing a level of personalisation you will see your Social Criteria soar above the competition. We keep reading that the future of marketing is about 'customer lifetime value' and ‘personalisation’. Ha, we've known this for sometime and we also know that these two trends are inextricably linked.

Size is no excuse. Personalisation is totally possible at scale. See my previous posts on the NHS, Lush and Brewdog (still relevant despite recent toxic culture accusations because they've said sorry and want to put it right. I believe them). In The Power of Personal I also look at challenger brand Westmorland Motorway Services (full of smiley people behind the counters, full of smiley people buying and paying premium prices), Nespresso, First Direct and Chiltern Railways.

For a taster of why and what's possible, I've updated my presentation on why personalisation matters now and why the benefits are worth the effort.

Let’s ensure Melanie Reid and others can celebrate the re-humanisation of corporate communications.

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