Matt Carter from Message House brings together the key learnings for corporate messaging on COP26 and based on insights drawn from recent focus groups with the UK general public:

Climate change is the perfect example of a problem that can’t be solved alone. This was highlighted in recent focus groups we conducted specifically in the run-up to COP26 (the Conference of the Parties). As Ben and Helen have eloquently shown this week, most members of the public reflected a sense of powerlessness on the issue, unable to see what they could do individually to address it.

What’s worse, from their perspective, the attempts at collective solutions aren’t perceived to be working either, and their expectations for COP26 were low. It’s no surprise that many focused on businesses either as the easy targets of blame for climate failures or as the hoped-for source of solutions to get us out of this crisis.

It’s into this tricky, doubtful context that your corporate messaging around COP26 will land.

To help, we spent time in the groups exploring different messaging routes on the environment and here’s five learnings from our research with the public to guide your approach.

First, don’t ignore COP26. The Conference will again put the environment centre-stage but it has already grown in importance as an issue for the public over the last few years and was made more personally relevant for many people during the pandemic as they spent more time outdoors in cleaner air. It’s also an issue brands can’t ignore. Responsible businesses are expected to be playing their part in solving the environmental crisis and COP26 will provide an opportunity to restate your brand’s commitment to the environment.

Bridge the scepticism gap with practical action. The backdrop to the COP26 conference is a general perception in the scientific and NGO community that the world isn’t doing enough to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. Our research with the public reflects this scepticism that COP26 will produce anything more meaningful. In this context, there’s a significant risk for businesses that major headline-grabbing commitments will be seen as more lofty ambitions with no substance, so alongside any big targets, your messaging needs to be focused on tangible, practical steps that are already underway to cut emissions, reduce waste and protect nature.

Increase the sense of collective efficacy through partnerships. The underlying narrative around the environment is that selfish, individual actions won’t get us where we need to get to. In response, company messaging that emphasises partnerships, collaboration and collective efforts performs really well in testing. Rather than trying to ‘hero’ your own brand, show how you are working with others to cut your carbon footprint or make whole supply chains greener. This will not only feel more credible but also a more sizeable contribution to addressing the problem.

Don’t confuse big ambitions with immediate steps. Too many companies have focused their response to the environmental challenge by setting far-reaching goals. It’s no surprise they never test well, not just because they lack credibility (‘just passing the problem down the line to the next CEO’) but also because they fail to reflect the sense of urgency the public are looking for. Any response to COP26 needs to start with what you’ve already done, what you’re doing today and what you’ll do tomorrow, before getting to the destination you’re heading towards.

Finally, keep the messaging simple, jargon-free and evidence-based. COP26 is already overloaded with acronyms, jargon, and technical language, so don’t fall into the trap of repeating that. Remember – when asked, most of our focus group respondents didn’t know what COP26 was, many (especially younger respondents) hadn’t heard of the Paris Agreement and although they all understood well the issues around the environment, they weren’t technical experts. So be sure to edit any messaging with your key audience in mind and if it is a general public message, keep it simple, acronym-light and supported by facts, stories and datapoints to bring it to life.

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