To Tell Your ESG Story, Think Digital

WE Red Bridge Data Reveals the Importance of Online Channels to ESG Storytelling.

B2B marketers are optimistic about 2024, according to data from a WE Red Bridge survey conducted at the end of 2023 in which we spoke with 300 B2B decision-makers across China. To take advantage of potential opportunities, more than half of B2B marketers indicate they plan to increase spending on marketing and communications in the year ahead.

But for traditional communications tactics such as interviews, events and feature articles, most respondents are planning to hold budgets flat or decrease spend. Instead, 56% of respondents indicated they will spend more on short-form videos and 48% said the same for social posts. China’s mobile-first culture has become fully entrenched in B2B businesses, just as it has become essential to all other aspects of daily life in China.

Not all categories of social content are equally successful on social media for B2B brands, but WE Red Bridge’s survey results reveal that environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics in particular are becoming important sources of social content, especially for short videos. But this is only one part of how B2B brands should envision their ESG and social media strategies to maximize potential results from their investment.

WE Red Bridge has been creating and executing digital communications strategies for consumer and B2B brands for over 10 years and has developed a specialty in ESG communications. In addition to what shows up in our survey and interview data, we are seeing more and more briefs for holistic digital strategies designed to grow a brand building and sales infrastructure encompassing key events throughout the year, including CIIE, Chinaplas, Canton Fair, Shanghai and Beijing Auto Shows, and more, for B2B brands in China.

Brands have many objectives for their digital presences, but increasingly B2B brands are singling out digital channels to highlight their ESG activity, using them to build brand awareness and preference and encourage sales. Most digital strategies will seek to do both, with some content seeking to educate viewers about the brand and their activities and other content designed to facilitate orders. These are often augmented through campaign activations around key dates, such as a virtual booth that allows potential targets who can’t attend an event in person to view the company’s booth content and connect with the sales team, or a WeChat HTML5 game or other activation at the event to provide an additional digital dimension to attendees’ experience.

The centrality of ESG, and sustainability specifically within ESG broadly, to B2B decision-makers in 2024 and beyond is the core finding of WE Red Bridge’s survey data. Although only about one-third of respondents view sustainability as essential to their short-term operations (35%, the fourth-highest-ranked answer), it becomes the second-highest priority consideration for the next 3 to 5 years (39%), and half of respondents believe that it will be one of the top considerations influencing their customers’ purchase decisions in the same period — ranking it higher than any other factor.

Roadmap for ESG Digital Success

With digital consuming a growing share of marketing spend and ESG seen as mission critical to businesses, it is essential that B2B brands think clearly about how to deploy ESG content across their digital channels. This starts with a clear view of the behavior businesses want to encourage, whether an individual activation or piece of content should be used to drive awareness or preference, or is targeted to spur sales.

BRAND BUILDING: ESG on digital channels began as a brand-building exercise, and it remains excellent for this purpose. It telegraphs to audiences the causes that your brand cares about and allows them to understand who you are beyond the products you offer.

ESG content designed to help build your brand is narrative storytelling. It creates an opportunity to tell a cohesive storyline through a piece of content or a series, and as such it works best when supported by significant investment. Consider narrated videos that can be retooled for different formats encompassing interviews, testimonials and visual representations of your ESG work, or multipart social content rich with design elements and imagery to get the point across.

DHL has grasped the power of digital channels to build its brand in China particularly well. DHL recently has focused on initiatives that use innovative technology to reduce carbon emissions, such as its fleet of hydrogen-powered delivery trucks, drones and more. These topics have been highly visible across DHL’s Douyin and WeChat channels and are very successful with influencers as well. In the past year, DHL’s Douyin videos have seen more than 40 million plays, over 80,000 likes, 4,000 positive comments and 5,700 shares, indicating that corporate ESG and environmental sustainability content on digital channels can play a leading role in educating potential customers about B2B brands.

SALES: Most B2B businesses aren’t set up for direct sales on social media or through digital channels as consumer brands are. Still, most sales teams communicate with sales targets via digital channels such as WeChat at least some of the time, and buyers, like everyone else, consume content via digital channels. Though sales-driven content cannot convert directly, there are many ways to stimulate sales through digital channels for B2B brands.

The way to do this is through content targeted directly to your customers’ specific needs. Sales-focused ESG content doesn’t need to provide the same level of detail that brand-building content must. Instead, it should be concise, easily comprehensible and frequent. WeChat and other social posts that provide facts such as updates on previously announced initiatives, performance of new sustainability products, and more are welcome, as are less than one- minute videos with infographics and short interview clips communicating specific data points and outlining how your business can help clients achieve their own ESG goals. This content can then be forwarded by members of your sales team to potential targets and existing clients to start and maintain conversations.

Creating a strategic approach that maximizes the impact of each piece of ESG-related content on digital channels is a complex and constantly changing process, especially as the definition of ESG evolves and China’s digital ecosystem grows more complex. There is no single approach, and even successful strategies must be regularly re-evaluated to ensure they continue to fit the organization’s strategy, but beginning with a clear understanding of your customers’ needs must always be the starting point.

ESG has already proved to be a powerful tool for communicators, and we see it only continuing to grow as more brands explore its full potential to connect with customers.

February 29, 2024

Martin Xu
Director, Technology
WE Red Bridge