How should brands and marketers respond to Black Lives Matter (or, any social and political issue)?

In times of great social upheaval or change, it’s a common question for clients to their marketers: how do we respond to this? Do we make a statement? Black out our socials? Ride the momentum or lay low? What’s going to impact our bottom line?


There’s a lot of contradictory advice out there. Some believe that businesses shouldn’t get political, and there’s other camps that believe economic behaviour only solidifies our social and political issues, so how can industries not get involved? 


With so many global examples of this recently - climate change, COVID-19, and now the Black Lives Matter protests around the world - businesses are asking their marketers again and again: so, how do we respond?

BLM

Protesters at a Black Lives Matter Rally in the U.S, photo by Clay Banks

 


Determine your values first

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach or appropriate response for businesses. It seems to be widely forgotten in this day and age that your marketing channels should be an extension of the rest of your business - an amplification method. Your business should already have a set of values, processes and ideals that create your brand, and an ethical marketing strategy should simply be about projecting those - not creating them on the go.


In relation to the current scenario - the Black Lives Matter (BLM) social unrest - if you are a company that works hard to protect diversity of people and cultures, or if you go out of your way to support indigenous communities - chances are, you might have something of value to contribute to the BLM conversation here in Australia. 


However, if you don't - it’s highly unethical for marketers to encourage you to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and release a statement just because it’s highly topical.


A core element of this issue is that black voices are being drowned out by other voices and opinions, by people who aren’t actually experiencing these issues first hand. 

  

Many businesses will have a burning desire to get involved or say something regardless. Perhaps it’s just a show of support. It’s fantastic to show your support, but beware: it can ring hollow to customers if you don’t actually have any clear actionable values in your brand’s message or day-to-day processes. Support also doesn’t necessarily mean saying something. Support can be deliberately leaving space in our oversaturated media for black voices to be heard.


Perhaps the current events have awoken a desire to contribute more to the issue, and now you’d like to implement those processes or values into your brand.


We’re not trying to say that this isn’t a chance to reflect on your brand values and perhaps expand, diversify, or improve your business (it is) but you need to make sure that you follow through with any claims you might make during this time. If you’re overwhelmed, start small: it can be something as simple as including more diverse models in your marketing campaigns, or donations to a local indigenous cause.

 

What if my response causes backlash?

Brands often worry about the possibility of backlash if they have easily identifiable values. However, it’s these values that give your brand an identity in the first place. Unfortunately, you can’t be everything to everyone. Dare to speak up and stand for something, and you will attract real loyal followers. 


Hopefully, your brand values and operations align with positive social change, anti-discriminatory and sustainable business practices. Then (and only then) your marketing practices can benefit from amplifying these values. Consumers are increasingly looking for brands that positively align with them on these key issues, meaning that doing good and supporting good causes is good for your business too, especially long-term.


There’s a higher risk of backlash and consumer mistrust when businesses behave unethically, without transparency, and when marketing messages are inconsistent with business methodology. If you are genuine about change, then follow through. Actions speak louder than words, and results are more impressive than talk.


Customers are also highly discerning these days, and have many research tools at hand - so it usually helps to be transparent. If you make big claims purely for the benefit of a marketing strategy, it can be easy to figure out. Customers will not be afraid to boycott or ‘name and shame’ your business for false statements. 


The key takeaway here is when marketing at any time (not just in unprecedented times) is to always ensure your marketing strategy is in line with your overall processes, brand values and the actions that you’re taking. Ethical and transparent marketing practices do better in a world with discerning and politically aware consumers.

 

30acres supports the BLM movement but we are taking our own advice and not speaking on behalf of the black and indigenous people affected, as we are not an authority on the issue. If you want more information on BLM moment and the social injustices that catalysed it, please look directly to those affected. Some handy sources are linked below.

Posted on 09 June 2020

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