Communication holds an increasingly important role in forging trust and guaranteeing the solidity of a business. It must all begin with identifying key company-and stakeholder-specific topics. Companies need to then be able to present their strategic activity, in tandem with quantifiable achievements and concrete actions.
We launched our research series “.trust: communicating what matters” for Switzerland’s largest listed companies to be able to respond to these questions and guide companies in communicating their corporate strategies and commitments in a believable and trustworthy way.
For the Swiss sample, we began with Swiss companies that were able to reach a good level of transparency in last year’s edition of Webranking. Only 28 Swiss companies made the cut and gained access to our flagship research project, .trust.
The analysis is focussed on two aspects that we consider to be fundamental in the creation of trust and communication of leadership:
- Substance: which evaluates the ability to provide a solid and clear vision of the company and their purpose. This aspect creates a common thread between a company’s business strategy, commitment to sustainability, and innovation initiatives. It is fundamental, moreover, that managers and directors reinforce these messages and strengthen company leadership.
- Distinctiveness: which evaluates how companies present their substantive contents or, more precisely, if they are able to create an engaging narrative that draws in their users and stakeholders. Here we consider elements such as the use of stories or case studies that support the messages, the effectiveness of linguistic and visual communication, the coherent use of social media, and the user experience of the website.
.trust makes sense of new trends and gives companies building blocks for effective corporate communication
Key Findings: how do Swiss companies perform in this year’s research?
The .trust research series is organised around two pillars (Substance e Distinctiveness) that contain all essential elements of business communications. With this approach we offer a new interpretation to understand the placement of each company in relation to their peers and competitors.
This is how we have been able to delineate the four quadrants that synthesise the various different approaches to business communication.
About 29% of companies are in the best category in the .trust matrix, the Narrators. These companies are able to present a clear vision of the company supported by a distinct ability to engage the user stakeholder as well as providing them with substantive information. Few in this category, however, have invested enough in corporate storytelling.
Amongst the best performers, five out of eight companies in the Narrators sectors are consumer companies, which includes companies such as Roche, Novartis, Nestlé, Swisscom, and Givaudan. These are companies that have been consolidating their role in Switzerland for years and, unsurprisingly, this has gone hand in hand with a clear focus on digital corporate communication.
Swiss Sleepers and Traditionalists make up about 62% of the initial 55-company sample. Swiss companies now find themselves at a crossroads on the journey towards creating a distinct sustainable and trustworthy corporate communications culture. No companies are in the Explainers quadrant.
The majority of Swiss companies, however, are in the Glitterati category. While it might be appealing to take the easier path towards this shiny quadrant with quick aesthetic fixes, companies should set their sights on becoming Narrators. To do this, companies will need to be able to balance company communications with coherent and consistent facts and presentation styles.
Strategy and vision as a guide to communication
An effective way to understand whether the mission is indeed an integrated part of the company (and not an empty statement), is to understand if it is linked to the company’s business and sustainability strategies.
Although the majority of the companies considered describe a strategic approach without limiting themselves to the presentation of their business plan, few make an explicit connection with their mission (29%).
Some companies that do so successfully are Baloise, Givaudan, Nestlé, and Barry Callebaut.
Strategically grounding sustainability commitments
A sustainability strategy is a key element when it comes to evaluating a company’s commitment for many stakeholders.
While most companies considered present their sustainability strategies, few connect it to their mission or vision (29%), and even fewer prevent substantiating case studies (21%). This is definitely an area in which Swiss companies need to invest far more to see good results. Some however, have been able to stand out particularly in this area, with Nestlé and Roche at the top of this list, followed by Sika, and Swisscom.
Storytelling: from nice tales to substantive narration
In the past few years, words such as “storytelling”, “brand journalism”, and “content marketing” are on everybody’s lips.
Storytelling elements fare relatively high within Swiss corporate communication standards. In fact, about 68% of companies use stories to develop their company themes on a deeper level. However, 6 companies out of the 28 evaluated present no narrative content, such as articles, case studies, or stories that assist the user-stakeholder to better understand the company.
Notwithstanding this significant attention to storytelling, it is far rarer to find companies with stories in the fullest sense of the word. Many in fact present stories massed together with other articles and news items. Nestlé fares particularly well when it comes to the presentation of stories.
Key elements for successful storytelling
More than likes: managers as influencers on key corporate topics
With the rapid transmission of digital information, we have grown accustomed to having direct relationships with people, brands, and organizations, and we have gained the ability to follow the faces of those who work “behind the scenes” as a means of humanizing a company.
To generate trust, therefore, it is fundamental for company management to transmit this vision and purpose, and to express a concrete business strategy.
The most followed CEOs are also those that post most frequently about topics related to their company. Novartis’ Vasant Narasimhan and UBS’ Sergio Ermotti reflect this statistic especially well, both CEOs post at least twice a week, and are in fact the only CEOs whose followers hit six figures. Other CEOs with a higher LinkedIn following are Jerome Lambert from Richemont, Christian Mumenthaler from Swiss Re and Gilles Andrier from Givaudan.
Strengths and weaknesses
User experience in service of the narrative
The analysis we conducted alongside Siteimprove allowed us to evaluate the user experience on Swiss corporate sites: elements such as accessibility, loading speed performance, SEO, and the organisation of information in a web page (design interactivity and content structure).