As we face crises on all fronts of society, corporations and brands are being taken to task for past missteps and complacency. As influencers on public opinion, those of us at the helms of brands have a responsibility to drive change beyond issuing boilerplate statements.
While many of us are reflecting on our privilege and how to wield it for change, I urge marketing leaders to use our access to advertising dollars, media and storytelling platforms to be part of the conversation. I have admittedly been spending a lot of time debating where my energy is best served. If you’re in an organization that doesn’t have a strong precedent for cause marketing or activism, it can often be challenging to know where to start or continue.
Here are some tips on navigating the topic of brand activism with your leadership team and leveraging your budgets for meaningful impact:
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of progress
Many brands and marketing professionals have struggled in the past months to find their place in conversations around the Covid-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement. Failing to act because your company doesn’t have an airtight strategy is no longer acceptable to consumers. Marketers are often at the helm of culture change in organizations, and we have a responsibility to push for our organizations to be bold. Even if your brand hasn’t previously aligned itself with a particular cause, you can still start now.
Seek champions in the C-suite
Don’t shy away from having difficult conversations with senior executives in order to identify who will champion certain issues—forming alliances with them will strengthen your cause. Knowing that you have C-suite support before you make a big ask will go a long way.
I have found the best approach is to spend time understanding where the personal interests and passions of each member of your executive team lie, whether it’s sustainability, social justice or public health. Pull them into conversations where they will shine.
Ask yourself why your brand needs to be part of any particular conversation
Consider your target audience, the history and current positioning of your brand, and ask how you can authentically and best support the conversation. Are you adding to the noise or amplifying oppressed voices? The same lens through which we identify “performative allyship” in ourselves should be applied to brands and corporations.
A donation isn’t the only way to influence
Your organization may not have the resources to make a meaningful monetary donation. But part of the swift shifts we’re seeing in the industry show that consumers are more concerned with how the organization is behaving internally to implement the long-term changes they’re calling for publicly. Partner with your HR team around internal education programs and give your team time off to volunteer or educate themselves on allyship. There are so many free resources out there that culture change does not necessarily need to be a big line item in the budget to be meaningful.
Build a D&I task force
D&I task forces should extend into all facets of business including brand activism. Build a team that reviews all cause-related marketing initiatives or statements around social issues. You need a diverse, cross-functional team that accurately represents the entire organization to be a BS test for the strategy you’ve put together.
Partner with a diverse group of creators, influencers and production teams to source your content
In times when digital and ecommerce have never been more important, we continue to have a constant demand for fresh content. You can amplify the voices of people who are already doing great work with your content production budget and using your social media channels as a platform for their voices.
In order to leverage existing budgets for quick, authentic change, start with people. Identify other stakeholders in your company, spark honest conversation and support people who are already tackling pressing issues. Lastly, keep in mind that the most meaningful step in this process is the internal conversation that you have and the commitment that you make to yourself to lead your organization.
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