How Brands Can Follow Through With Activism

In 2020 in the wake of the death of George Floyd, businesses want to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. But, they are struggling with how? What constitutes true support and change versus lip talk. In the past, most companies have been pretty quiet in their support because they don’t want to alienate people from buying their products. Nowadays, customers can support their favorite businesses, knowing exactly what they stand for, and rest easy knowing they pay for products from companies that share their same ideals. If you run a business and want to get involved in activism, the following are a few ways to make sure that you’re following through with your activism, not just joining to keep up with current trends. 

In the past, experts advised staying neutral on topics that could alienate potential clients or customers. However, we’re now seeing that this is no longer the case. Especially on social media, users tend to view silence as complicity. For businesses, this means adding brand activism to their content marketing strategies. Potential customers want to know a company’s values: what causes it supports, where it stands on hot-button issues, etc.

At the same time, the rise of social media has made content marketing more important than ever for businesses of all sizes. Rather than creating traditional ads and promotions, companies are opting to invest in podcasts, videos, and other content that engages potential customers. This type of media raises brand awareness instead of marketing products or services directly to people. What the brand stands for becomes paramount.

Companies should start by living their values and deciding what is important to them. Understanding the context that you exist in and the ever-evolving societal environment in social climate is very important as well. First, companies have to organize and decide which issues are important to them and get input from their employees. Agreement and organization are a good idea before going public. One way to do that is by coming up with a mission statement that is descriptive enough for people to understand. After everyone agrees on the mission statement, the company should make their case public. Companies should also make sure they hire a diverse group of people and adapt to change. 

While doing so, businesses need to pay close attention to current trends. What issues have hit the zeitgeist? What matters the most to potential customers? What is the company’s stance on those issues? Once the company chooses a position, it becomes crucial to create content that will engage people whose values align. 

Companies need to own their stance on any given issue. NASCAR is a good example. NASCAR recently banned the use of Confederate Flags. NASCAR also flagged President Trump’s tweet and decided to make Juneteenth a company holiday recognizing black oppression. Additionally, the company has been very proactive in donating to several causes and efforts that support black communities. The sport has been known to sometimes draw in some racism, so taking this stance was a huge step in the right direction for the company. 

Sometimes companies fall flat in their responses to issues, or they seem inauthentic. Let’s look at the Starbucks example. In 2018 when two black men were kicked out of the establishment, the CEO of the company decided to close some of his stores to train his employees on racial tension and racial bias. Many believe that response was somewhat lukewarm to the systemic issue of racism. Instead of making a similar misstep, ask yourself how your company can address underlying issues of racism. Your goal should be to change your system and stop racist events from occurring. If you aren’t proactive, you’ll end up trying to fix problems when they occur with band-aid solutions that may backfire. 

The content you create for your business must line up with both your goals and actions. Social, political, and environmental issues are increasingly at the forefront of our everyday lives. This has led to more people voting with their wallets — supporting companies that match their values rather than being loyal to a particular brand, product, or service.

In a recent study by the World Media Group, marketers identified three areas of importance in creating successful content campaigns. Brand engagement and changing brand perceptions were the top two, but sharing similar values was a close third. Customers want to support brands that are worried about more than just the bottom line; they want to support socially, politically, and environmentally responsible brands. 

At the end of the day, your business must know its target customers’ beliefs and needs for this type of content marketing to be effective. For example, if a company takes a hard stance on environmental issues, it might create a campaign to raise awareness about climate change. Is this something that existing and potential customers care about? Does this fall in line with the company’s already established business practices?

Brand activism must be authentic and organic for the company. If not, potential customers will disregard the content-marketing campaign or even look at it with suspicion.

Businesses can be a powerful tool for advocacy, but taking a stance haphazardly and ineffectively without real change can do more harm than good. Brands have to be authentic, impactful and commit to doing things differently. 

by Desiree Peterkin Bell

Based in NY, New York, Desiree Peterkin Bell is the Founder of DPBell & Associates, a global public affairs firm. The organization works with clients both nationally and internationally in areas including brand management, development and positioning, crisis communications, and strategic counsel.

Desiree has authored two books: Women Who Influence and Women Who Inspire. She's also contributed to Lose the Cape, a book about raising children to know how to use their voices.

Before creating DPBell & Associates, Desiree Peterkin Bell served in positions at nearly every level of government. She believes that this experience is a crucial advantage of the services she and her firm offer.
She's been at the forefront of many significant issues and policies that influence constituencies on a local, national, and international level for over two decades.

Learn more at DesireePeterkinBell.co.


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