Sustainability thought leadership: How to get attention

Ben Harrison

In the lead up to COP26, many brands sought to use their sustainability thought leadership to start new conversations. But talk is cheap and action is everything, so how do you make sure your ideas get heard and provoke a response?

Our SURE framework can help. It gives marketers a framework for how to get attention, using the four ingredients of great communication: simple, urgent, relevant, eye-catching.

1. Simple

A lot of content tries to communicate messages that are too complex. Its producers assume that this makes them look clever and authoritative, and like they have a lot to say. But the more messages you try to land with the audience, the less successful you are likely to be.

To stand any chance of grabbing the attention of your time-poor audience, you need to keep the message simple.

The 1.5-degree challenge created by McKinsey is a lesson in simplicity. Its message is clear and can be summarised in one sentence, but beneath it there is considerable detail for people who want to explore and understand the thinking in depth.

2. Urgent

When you start a marketing campaign, ask yourself: “Why now?”. There has to be a reason for the audience to engage with your content, and they are more likely to do that if what you are proposing is urgent.

It is important to consider how you frame urgent messages. Behavioural economics tells us that losses loom larger than gains, so it can be more effective to emphasise the costs of not doing something instead of the benefits of doing something.

Reckitt’s series of short, punchy articles hosted on FT.com is a good example of urgency in action. With titles like Without collaboration, the planet – and everyone on it – loses, these articles grab the reader’s attention.

The same can be said for Centrica’s report, Why wait to pursue net zero? These campaigns take advantage of the audience’s natural aversion to loss, but balances it with a positive tone and ways for the audience to act.

3. Relevant

For your content to get someone’s attention, it will have to answer their questions and offer something of value. Relevant content answers the pressing questions and is as targeted, timely and tailored as possible.

A recent campaign for the banking firm ING, Progress, not perfection, does just that. ING created a series of focused articles and podcasts with insights into the sustainability topics its audience is grappling with. Combining ING’s sustainability know-how and strategic insights with its product and sector expertise, the content speaks directly to the audience.

4. Eye-catching

Messages that are unexpected are much more likely than predictable angles to get attention and be remembered. The same goes for bold and striking design.

Mount Coffee hydropower plant: Raised from the ruins is an insightful article with a captivating headline.  ING’s recent podcast interview with David Bollier, meanwhile, explores how commons (a resource belonging to and managed by a community, such as Wikipedia) can provide an alternative approach to sustainability. The unusual pairing of topic and expertise stands out.

For more examples, there is the Financial Times, which is a master of innovative design and data-driven content:

  • Europe is in the grip of a gas crisis. The FT’s visual storytelling team answer the question, How does Europe get its gas?
  • Following COP26, the FT’s data team invites you to test your climate change knowledge with its Draw your own chart

The war for attention is not won easily, but if you follow these simple steps you will give your content a head start – even on the fierce battleground of sustainability thought leadership.

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About the author: Ben Harrison

As marketing executive, Ben leads various marketing activities such as the firm’s social media effort, our always-on content programme, and all aspects of the website – from maintenance to re-designs. He also manages the department’s tech stack, delivering an increasingly seamless experience from marketing all the way through to the sales team.

Ben also contributes to the marketing team’s overall strategy and goals, helping to plan, execute and effectively measure all our content and engagement that push the firm towards brand- and commercial-oriented goals.

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