George Floyd’s untimely death at the hands of police – and countless other Black Americans like him – are fueling longtime concerns over racial injustice. The events and resulting protests have created a climate in which the broader issue of systemic racism is being acutely scrutinized. The way forward requires a commitment from everyone – including brands and other institutions – to actively participate in honest conversations, education and advocacy for the rights of their fellow humans.
What does this mean?
While many companies have typically shied away from weighing in on social issues that don’t directly impact their industries, one thing is for sure: this time is different. Employees and consumers are fed up with the country’s failure to address the issues of racism, equity and inclusion, and they expect to hear from the brands they know and trust. Marketers must view the current events as an opportunity to evaluate best practices, strategies and tactics that will not only protect their brand in this moment, but also make their company better and stronger in the long run.
What should marketers be doing?
Here are four things to consider before your company takes a stand:
- Look in the mirror.
Before your company dives headfirst into communicating support of racial equality, first look within your own workplace culture, policies and practices to be sure they line up with your words. Now is the time to hold the mirror up and see where you can be better. And it starts with listening, learning and supporting the voices within your company. Otherwise, a sympathetic public statement when your own house isn’t in order could backfire. Bon Appétit magazine recently admitted that the publication has been “complicit” in focusing on a “white-centric viewpoint” within its brand and issued a statement on Instagram that vows to “dismantle racism.” This type of inward focus adds more credibility to the message.
- Make your words actionable.
Speaking up about systemic racism is a good start, but it’s simply not enough. A recent Morning Consult survey shows consumers have a more favorable view of brands that say and do something amid social injustice. Today, people expect more. They want to know: What now? Will anything change? How can your company be part of the solution? To back up their statements with actions, companies like CAVA, Thrive Causemetics and Bumble have shared specific steps they will take, whether it’s donating to Black organizations, holding racial bias trainings or launching new diversity initiatives. For many companies, taking action is a work in progress and may take time to plan, execute and measure, but brands that make the effort and follow through will get credit, both internally and externally.
- Strike the right tone.
Understanding people’s concerns and feelings is the first step in delivering a message that connects and builds trust with your audience. Your communications must be sensitive to the current situation and never dismiss people as irrational or wrong for what they are feeling. It’s important to show compassion, but authenticity is also imperative. One way for leaders to be authentic is to share their own personal experiences and what they learned, like this story of American Airlines CEO Doug Parker’s heartfelt discussion on race and racism with a Black Southwest Airline flight attendant.
- Align with who you are as a brand.
The secret to effective communications, especially in times like these, is knowing who you are as a brand. What do you stand for? What are your core values? What do your consumers expect? Of course, you must be mindful of what you say, how you say it and when, but don’t lose your brand in the process. Instead, use it to help people get through this difficult time, whether that’s being a trusted resource, providing some much-needed inspiration or comic relief, or taking action in your community. Nike has a history of standing against inequality of all forms, so it was no surprise when the brand chose to address racism with its bold 60-second “For Once, Don’t Do It” commercial. In a different way, NASCAR made a bold statement when it banned the confederate flag at all events to make more people feel welcomed.
While the efforts described above have been praised by many and criticized by others, the common thread is that these brands were courageous enough to focus on their core values, lead change, and build trust among current and future customers. Inspired by their example and so many other individuals and organizations, LGA is working on its own plan of action to uphold and further our values and commitment to fight for racial justice and equity. We’ll keep you posted on our progress, and hope you’ll do the same.
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