President and Co-Founder of OBERLAND, a purpose-driven agency and certified B-Corp. Drew creates brands that drive social progress.
These days, brands are so much more than their products or services. Think about Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola; they are not just their computers, gear or cans. They are cultural influencers with persuasive voices and distinct personalities. With this extensive presence comes the opportunity to be powerful proponents of change. This is particularly true amid widespread social movements, like the current resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. As a veteran cause marketer and co-founder and president of a certified B Corporation, I consult clients daily on how to effect lasting change. As your brand navigates how to best take a stand in support of BLM, here are a few things to know.
1. Consumers believe your brand can help create change — so you should too.
According to our recent survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, 91% believe the actions of brands to combat racial injustice, coupled with their own efforts, will lead to sustained social change. This mover-and-shaker sentiment is mirrored by the results of a study shared with Marketing Dive, which found that 65% of Americans want brands to take a stand against racism.
Many consumers see brands as an ally in the fight against racial injustice — and as a brand, they expect you to use your elevated platform and resources to help advance social change. So if your consumers believe you can be a changemaker, why shouldn’t you believe it too?
2. There is no right way to participate in activism and anti-racism efforts.
Upon reading my first point, you might ask, “Where do I start? What do I do?” The truth is that there’s no right answer. When we asked consumers how they would like to see brands respond to racial injustice, answers spanned a wide spectrum. About 30% of respondents want to see brands donating to an organization or cause supporting anti-racism, 27% believe brands must make a formal statement condemning racism and 20% think brands should address racism in advertising.
We also learned that 80% of respondents want to see brands respond to social issues with a combination of actions like making a statement and donating. This demonstrates that it’s about more than just making a donation or making a statement — actions should back up words, and vice versa, to show consumers that you’re a proponent of real change.
3. It’s not all about external actions. Internal changes matter too.
Consumers not only look to brands to amplify BLM in the outside world, but they also expect these values to be mirrored in the workplace. We found that nearly 30% of survey respondents want to see brands provide employees with appropriate diversity, equity and inclusion training (such as unconscious bias training) and resources, and 20% want brands to commit to hiring more Black employees.
For brands, it’s vital to ensure that internal initiatives reflect the commitments you’re making externally to show that your brand is authentic and true to its values. This also can win the support of your employees, who can be your most loyal ambassadors in the outside world.
4. It’s important to build trust and loyalty among Gen Z consumers.
Members of Generation Z are not afraid to stand up for causes they believe in, and according to reporting from Business Insider, nearly 90% of Gen Zers surveyed support BLM. This affects their shopping behaviors and brand loyalty, as we found that more than 35% of respondents between the ages of 19 and 26 have stopped purchasing from brands that haven’t spoken out against racism since the killing of George Floyd. What’s more, 66% of Gen Z consumers will base future decisions on whether to buy from a brand on their response to BLM, according to research from Morning Consult.
Gen Zers are aligning themselves with brands that share their trailblazer attitude and strong values regarding racial equality and BLM. This is important considering that Gen Zers are expected to make up approximately 40% of global consumers this year.
5. Brands that are committed to racial justice can provide inspiration.
It’s important to realize that no brand is perfect. You’re allowed to have missteps — as long as you’re evolving, growing, admitting to your mistakes and learning from them along the way. As you navigate your stance on racism, take note of brands that are by no means perfect, but are confronting the issue head-on and with meaningful, purposeful responses:
• Adidas: Adidas was criticized for its silence and not taking enough action during the peak of the BLM resurgence in the spring before finally speaking out with a tweet on June 10. The brand owned up to its silence and tried to reconcile months of passivity with a clear, meaningful plan of action to take on racial injustice both internally and externally. Commitments include filling 30% of all open positions with Black and Latinx talent and spending $120 million over the next four years to ensure that all of its initiatives “are sustainable and focused on long-term impact.”
• Google: Google announced an ambitious goal “to improve leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30 percent by 2025.” The company also is implementing various workplace initiatives to foster racial inclusion and equality within the company. Previously, Google had been criticized for the extreme lack of diversity on the leadership level, with Black individuals accounting for only 2.6% of leadership in both 2018 and 2019.
• Airbnb: Airbnb announced it will donate $500,000 to the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Foundation and match donations from employees to these organizations. The company also launched Project Lighthouse, an initiative that will examine how users’ “perceived race” affects their experiences on Airbnb’s platform to minimize racial discrimination.
When your brand joins the fight in support of BLM — and takes a stand for other worthy causes — it’s vital to remember that now, more than ever, your brand is ready and equipped to drive change. There’s no perfect path or step-by-step playbook. Just take authentic, meaningful action.