Embracing the language and ideas of resistance is a risky business for brands that are not prepared to follow up with action – doing so requires stepping outside the brand’s vaccum and making sure it is not a one-off.

This is according to a new article in the Harvard Business Review by Christine Alemany, CEO of strategic brand consultancy TBGA. While the whole piece is worth reading, here are a handful of important takeaways:

  • Company details are widely available online, meaning statements contradicting actual behaviour are likely to be found, shared, and used against you.
  • This means authenticity is key. Amazon and the NFL have both had to face the heat after inconsistencies in their stances were pointed out. The case of the NFL is particularly egregious, as it cowered from the political heat two years ago by punishing players who knelt during the anthem. Now the winds have changed, it expects people to forget. They won’t.
  • Groupthink and narrow brand expertise can be dangerous. “Marketing teams often craft campaigns in a vacuum”, writes Alemany, “pick the brain of your target audience to learn about what they want to hear and what will not work for them. These outsiders can hold a mirror up to your company, and allow you to see things more clearly.”
  • Listen: Ultimately, this is not about the company as much at it’s about the employees and customers who have been affected. “When crafting your response, mirror their phrasing and word choices to validate their concerns and show that you understand.
  • “Do not underestimate the power of a sincere apology — even if the transgression occurred decades ago.”
  • If you do apologise, be prepared to follow through with a set of actions, because even when the media spotlight moves off the brand, there will remain employees and customers who will continue to care. Often, it’s simple what must be done, Alemany writes, and doesn’t have to be particularly expensive or complicated: “If you value your essential workers, give them an hourly boost for facing increased hazardous conditions.”

Insights like these follow 2020’s inflection point in which Black Lives Matter moved from being a political movement that brands were able to avoid and became a mainstream stance, following the murder of George Floyd and the acknowledgement of the intolerable brutality that Black people face at the hands of their own country. Now, 84% of global consumers want brands to act in support of BLM. Note the word ‘act’, meaning more than posting a black square on Instagram.

While most multinational brands are taking note and many are actively working to change, it doesn’t stop the process of political and economic re-balancing to excise structural inequality being a difficult one. The important lesson is that it’s not a topic that will be going away any time soon.

Sourced from HBR, WARC