Saying that 2020 has been a year of many changes in the world is certainly an understatement. At the end of last year, the threat of COVID-19 started to emerge, and it didn’t take very long for the threat to become real. And as we saw, action we saw within our communities began to be mirrored by companies who unleashed brand activism.
The pandemic has had an effect on just about every form of human activity. The way we work, our schools, and consumer habits have all gone through profound changes. The superficial and deep aspects of life will likely never be the same. At the same time, civil unrest sparked and caught fire in various parts of the world. These demonstrations responded to the knowledge that certain wounds in our societies had never healed and others are starting to open. Nothing reflects this better than the protests regarding police brutality in various cities in the United States.
Of course, the business sector wasn’t untouched by these changing times. The strains that the general population is living through has created a new consciousness in consumers, this has led them to want and expect more from the brands they support. What they ask for now is not just better performance than other brands, they demand a shared social consciousness. Many household brands have been rocked by these demands and have made changes to their image and names that were very overdue. Others have tried to follow online activism trends, just to be called out for being perceived as opportunistic.
The changes in consumer behavior mean one thing: brand activism is here to stay.
What will this mean for your brand?
For the longest time, Millennials and Gen Z have been viewed by generations that came before them as too passive and comfortable behind their smartphones and computers. 2020 has been the year when many of these notions have been completely shattered. Yes, these generations spend a lot of their time online, but this doesn’t mean they are unable to enforce change through this platform. The internet is being re-shaped to become a space where change is made.
A good example of this is the use of social media during protests. Social media platforms have been a critical communication tool for these movements. From geolocation to helping spread the word through hashtags. Social media is now being redefined as much more than websites where you can reconnect with your ex-high school classmates.
These generations are growing more and more aware of many of the critical issues that the world faces today and want to effect a change in as many ways as possible. More than this, they understand that change starts in their own lives, and this has paved the way for consumer activism. Consumers nowadays realize that change can also be affected by voting with their wallets. This type of consumer is not content with empty public relations tactics such as tailored messages and heartfelt apologies; they want the brands they consume to accompany them in their struggles for social change in a tangible way.
This shouldn’t be taken as a threat, but a call to action from consumers to brands. Living in a business and commerce-driven society has not stripped people of their yearning to find meaning in their lives. The current world events have made this even clearer for them. By demanding change through choosing what they consume, they are inviting brands to make those changes. They most likely won’t like to lose the convenience or familiarity of their consuming habits, but just as they have evolved, so must brands.
The first thing you need to understand is that brand activism is not about what you say, but what you do. It’s very easy to point out brands that are just being opportunistic and following certain trends. If you are going to incorporate new social or environmentally-focused practices to your brand, they need to be measurable. To do this, you must give time, thought, and resources to develop impactful initiatives.
This means realizing that brand activism is not a public relations stunt or a marketing opportunity; rather, it’s about identifying how your organization can contribute to the greater good. So, should you just do a quick online web search for social causes that are being talked about today and start from there? You could, but the answer might be closer to you than what may appear.
Stand for something before taking a stand. Examine the values of your organization and see how they respond to the current state of affairs. Do you need to reexamine them or are they a good launchpad for your new initiatives and foray into brand activism?
Make sure that your plan of action produces quantifiable results over time. This is where the barrier between words and action is broken. You probably won’t be an expert in this area, so look for organizations like nonprofits and foundations as partners to make your brand activism a reality. You can also track how well your brand is living and delivering its purpose through the very latest in social media tracking
The world definitely needs fundamental changes to occur, especially when it comes to business and commerce. Consumers have a heightened awareness of the social and environmental issues facing humanity. They care deeply about them and expect the brands they consume to do the same.
Brand activism is much more than a public relations or corporate communications stunt; it requires planification and measurable results. The bottom line: Social innovation and consumer awareness are now the driving force behind the transformation of brands into instruments of change.
Image credit: Pixabay
Heidi Schoeneck and Phil White are the Co-founders of Grounded World, they are creative and strategic marketing executives who left big agency life to use their talents for good. Their company, Grounded World, is a B-corp certified, award-winning social impact and sustainability marketing agency that helps brands, businesses and nonprofits articulate their brand purpose, activating their brand and accelerating their positive impact.