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How brands can become allies in cause conversations

Ashland Stansbury

Australian wildfires. COVID-19 and nationwide quarantines. Black Lives Matter and nationwide protests. The first six months of 2020 have rocked the world and made it abundantly clear that organizations and brands must be nimble enough to respond, because people expect more. Some brands have been praised for the actions they have taken, while others have been deeply criticized for seemingly empty statements and promises, accused of pandering and virtue-signaling. So how do brands navigate the tumultuous landscape of cause conversations? When should they get involved, and what should that look like? Below, some advice.

Lead by example
Before putting out any content regarding the social issue at hand, make sure that you practice what you’re about to preach. Ask yourself, if the world is protesting for an end to racial injustice, do I have a diverse executive team? If younger generations are taking to the streets to march for climate change, am I working towards a more sustainable product? If those answers are no, then focus on making internal change first. Or else, your brand can face backlash for hypocritical messaging in an attempt to gain a following.


Help your followers take action
Social issues can often feel overwhelming. However, generic statements of support can be seen as distracting rather than productive. A brand’s goal is to show their followers that they, as individuals, can make a difference. Sharing links to educational resources will prompt your audience to start having important conversations. Amplifying donation opportunities for organizations fighting for your social issue is a great way of supporting those on the front lines.


Own up to past mistakes
If your organization has not been a voice advocating for social change in the past, then own up to it. Show your audience that your brand is actively working on reforming company values and products to reflect the societal issues you’re speaking on. Transparency and honesty are always valued. It may even earn you a new wave of loyal consumers who are just as invested in a brand’s social footprint as its commercial one.


Create change within your field
The most genuine and effective way brands can generate messages of action is by focusing on what they know best – their own industry. For example, in the face of racial injustice, beauty brand Glossier pledged to donate $500k in the form of grants to black-owned beauty businesses. This initiative was relevant to their product and their consumers, making it a notable way to target inequality within their own industry.

Bon Appetit also stepped up and announced a content campaign highlighting black-owned food businesses and restaurant owners on the front lines of national protests. Their pledge stayed true to the brand’s inherent creativity while still using their platform to speak out on a serious societal issue.


Don’t stop
The worst thing a brand can do is to show up with a strong campaign for the “flavor of the month” and then think their work is done.
Consumers see right through those annual Super Bowl Sunday campaign tactics – and with a digital trail left behind, you can bet they won’t be forgotten. Instead, think long-term. How can we, as a brand, stand for this cause in everything we do? How can we continue to engage in these conversations all year round? Can we invest in social listening tools to make this part of our strategy? Can we conduct quarterly research into our brand sentiment, to verify whether our consumers see us the way we see ourselves?

As a brand, you have a platform to share what you believe in. However, sharing that cause cannot act as a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Organizations must go further than an Instagram post to avoid criticisms of insincerity by a new generation of consumers. Create social change that infiltrates your business model, your network, and the future decisions you make on behalf of your brand.

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