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Rainbows, Pageants and Flags: The Start of a New Brand Activism?
Rainbows were splashed across brand logos from Coke to American Airlines following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to affirm same-sex marriage. Univision and NBC dropped the Miss Universe Pageant after racist comments by pageant co-owner Donald Trump. Retailers from Wal-Mart to eBay removed Confederate flags from their stores following a fatal shooting in an African-American church in Charleston, S.C.
It looks like many popular brands are scrambling to jump on the bandwagon and be publicly noted for their responses and positions on what they consider to be the “right side” of an important issue, but it hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when a good brand manager would do everything in his or her power to stay away from these big news stories, avoiding anything that was topical and could potentially be controversial. But in today’s world, we have not only real-time awareness of news and key issues, but also the expectation that organizations will respond appropriately in a real-time fashion.
Today’s marketer needs to be focused on content, conversations and community, which means not only interjecting marketing-related content into conversations with customers and prospects, but also authentically being part of general conversations that are top of mind with customers and prospects.
The companies that took an active response to these issues understood that their reactions were relevant beyond a specific demographic group and would be judged by their overall customer bases. They were aware that what they said and did would be noted by all of their customers.
Not every brand will get on board for any particular issue. Some companies likely found these actions inappropriate or even offensive. What’s important is that brands take the action that will resonate with their key audiences—including customers, employees, vendors, partners, etc.—rather than stay silent. What does this mean for you as a marketer?
Know your customers. Understand what’s important to them and how to ensure that they know where you stand.
Know what your brand stands for, and make sure that it’s clearly communicated in all that you say and do.
Enlist your employees. Employees raise the volume for organizations. Make sure that brand initiatives are fully understood and internalized by employees because they are the ones representing the brand to the outside world.
Be prepared. We can’t always know what issues will hit the news tomorrow, but we know that something will. It’s important that marketers are agile and ready to move quickly when that something happens.
The real question is, what happens next? After the flags are removed from the shelves, and the rainbows fade from Facebook posts and store windows, what actions will organizations take to further the discussion and encourage customer engagement? The brand values of fairness, inclusion and equal treatment need to be communicated every day, all day—not just paraded around on special occasions. Is your organization prepared for this new challenge?
Linda J. Popky is founder of Redwood City, Calif.-based marketing strategy firm Leverage2Market Associates and author of Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage With Marketing That Matters. Follow her on Twitter: @popky.