The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people work, shop, and socialize, but it also raised awareness of important social issues. From the Black Lives Matter protests, Stop Asian Hate movement, to the fight against anti-semitism, people have united against racism and social injustice against BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) communities.
People and brands stood up for the issues that matter most to them.
However, there’s a thin line between taking a stand or making change and being perceived as opportunistic or insincere. This time for brands, it wasn’t enough to chime into a conversation via social media or email; activists challenged brands to make real, lasting change—whatever that looks like for that particular company. Companies have to take concrete action and change from the inside out.
Here’s everything you need to know about responding to social change and how to prepare your brand for brand activism.
5 reasons brands should take a stand on social issues
The pandemic has called out inequalities and discrimination within various communities, but it has also reminded us how interdependent we are. What happens to one person can affect several others—even on the other side of the globe. It’s imperative to take a long, hard look at the world and ask ourselves how we can close the gaps between different racial and ethnic groups.
The stark reality is that the world’s problems are profound. To create a thriving society in the post-pandemic era, brands must actively address social issues and take a stand.
Brand activism is a value-driven act by a business in an effort to take a stand on social issues and promote improvements in society.
Here are five reasons why brands need to step up and take a leading role in social change.
1. Consumers expect brand participation in society
The magnitude of the social justice movements that took place during COVID-19 emphasized the importance of systemic changes. It became clear that it’s not enough for brands to have a corporate social responsibility program—the entire organization must actively practice antiracism.
According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, 60% of respondents believe that brands must address the root causes of racial inequality, and 57% said brands must educate the public.
2. Consumers will judge with their wallet
Today’s consumers are more socially aware and ever. As a result, buying from brands with values that align with theirs is just as important as product quality and price point for many.
According to the Consumer Culture Report from 5W Public Relations, 83% of Millennials find it important to buy from the companies that align with their values.
This goes beyond the mission statement. Consumers are assessing what a brand says, what it does, and what it stands for. And they’re judging a brand’s response with their wallet.
During the Black Lives Matter protests, 60% of the U.S. general population stated that how a brand responds during the protests against racial injustice will influence whether they buy or boycott them in the future.
3. Create change to build trust
Fighting racism and racial injustice is a daily act and a long-term journey. The number of purpose-driven consumers continues to grow. Brands that want to create loyal customers have to build trust by expressing their care and by taking action on important social issues.
Research from Edelman shows that brand trust is the number one priority among customers when it comes to shopping. For 53% of respondents, brand trust is top of mind when deciding whether to buy from a new brand and for 49%, it’s a deciding factor for becoming a loyal customer.
4. Inspire customers and employees to get involved
Brands have a significant influence on consumers. Humans are social creatures wired to adopt the behavior of the people around us. That’s why creating a community of like-minded people can encourage more people to support a movement or a cause.
Popular brands with a large follower base can boost awareness and spark conversation on important issues through channels like Twitter and Instagram. Taking action will create a ripple effect that will inspire customers and employees to engage and support.
5. Moral and societal obligation
The pandemic turned the world upside down, but at the same time reminded everyone that we have moral and societal obligations. Brands are waking up to the reality that revenue and ROI shouldn’t be their only concerns.
Individualism, selfishness, and lack of empathy have pushed the world to the edge. Considering the power, the influence, and the resources they have, brands should take the lead in making the world a better place to live.
7 steps to prepare your brand to respond to social causes
Businesses that want to take a stance must be aware that social activism can be a double-edged sword. Social issues should be dealt with the utmost care and respect, so sending a hasty or wrong message can be catastrophic.
That’s why brands should consider a few essential steps to prepare for the age of brand activism.
1. Do your research
Talking about social issues that you don’t understand is reckless and insensitive. The messages you share influence many people, so you have to ensure that they’re accurate, compassionate, and understandable.
To avoid a public backlash, companies must act carefully and do their research. In this situation, checking the Internet is not enough. Make sure to include people with first-hand experience, to help you tailor authentic messages.
Understanding the core of the social issue you want to raise awareness about is essential. Talk with the community, and give them space through your platform so their voice can be heard. Everything else is just a PR stunt.
2. Educate your community
Once you get to know the cause, use the power of your channels to spread the message and raise awareness. According to Edelman, 57% of respondents say educating the public is a critical factor in earning or keeping their trust.
Procter & Gamble has a dedicated page on their website to racial inequality that includes information on how consumers can choose to act. This library includes a range of resources, videos, podcasts, as well as ways to donate and engage. They’ve also updated the page with the latest news around the Stop Asian Hate movement.
3. Lead by example
Making the world a better place starts from the inside. In other words, you have to set an example within your organization before taking a bigger initiative. The same Edelman report cited earlier found that 64% of respondents think brands need to take steps to ensure their organization is racially representative throughout.
What’s more, cultural diversity affects your bottom line. Research from McKinsey shows that companies in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams are 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.
One crucial thing to remember: Diversity shouldn't be an act of tokenism. People can always tell if something is genuine or not. Instead of doing something just because everyone does it, do it because it’s right.
4. Make products accessible and suitable to all communities
Preaching social justice while offering products and services that are not suitable for different communities can be perceived as hypocrisy. This issue is particularly common in the beauty industry.
Back in 2017, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty released 40 foundation shades and emphasized the need for deep changes in the industry. Soon after, 40 shades became a benchmark. However, brands have to be aware that it’s not about the number of shades or different product options, but truly changing the company culture and encouraging diversity in every segment of the business.
5. Reflect diversity in your communications
You can’t talk about racial equality if it’s not woven into every aspect of your business, especially in your marketing and advertising. In particular, the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements have raised the topic of diversity in advertising.
According to a NewsCred study, 91% of marketers agree that there is still room for growth in showcasing diversity in their marketing materials.
ThirdLove is a lingerie company built on the message that everybody is beautiful. They do this by showing real women of all ages, shapes, and races. They’re all about feeling comfortable in your own skin, and weaving a diverse group of voices and models into their campaigns speaks truth to their mission.
6. Advocate for racial equality
Customers have high expectations from brands when it comes to using their power to spread the right message across platforms. However, the actions that a company takes should reflect the mission and the purpose of the brand.
In other words, you can’t advocate for racial equality overnight. That’s why it’s important to look at this as a movement, rather than a one-time task.
The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) have shown their solidarity with the Asian community and committed to give $450,000 to organizations that support racial justice and equity for the Asian community, including Asian Americans for Equality, Stop AAPI Hate, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC.
Besides, they've brought together a group of leaders within the ELC organization, including the Asian Affinity Group (AAG) Employee Resource Group, to actively engage with employees and develop meaningful and sustainable ways to show up for the Asian community.
7. Take action
Talking about social issues is not enough. You have to walk the talk.
Being part of a movement only when it’s widely talked about can result in a boomerang effect. People recognize genuine actions from opportunism.
Data from Edelman shows that 63% of the U.S. general population thinks that brands that provide a statement in support of racial equality need to supplement with concrete action to avoid being seen as exploitative or as opportunists.
Showing your customers that what matters to them and you builds trust and strengthens your reputation. Incorporating a giving element into your overall shopping experience empowers customers to support the causes that mean the most to them.
For example, Natori is a design house with East-meets-West collections based in New York City. The company sells lingerie, loungewear, and other high-end women’s fashion items.
Natori offers many ways for customers to give back to their favorite organizations. On each product page, customers can see how much money is eligible to donate to the cause of their choice. Some of the featured causes they support include the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Asian Pacific Policy Planning and Planning Council, and Chinese for Affirmative Action.
How others support social causes with a simple ecommerce integration
Brands are building relationships with their customers by giving back to the communities and organizations that need it most.
Here are some examples of brands that integrated ShoppingGives to allow their customers to feel empowered with each purchase, knowing their dollar has a positive impact.
GREATS is a Brooklyn founded and based shoe retailer that creates shoes with the highest standards of labor and environmental practices. Every pair of GREATS is meant to be worn for the rest of your life and they take pride in doing everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint.
Customers who make a purchase on their website help to support the #GreatsDoingGreat Impact Fund— the first-ever Impact Fund in partnership with ShoppingGives that features a customized portfolio of nonprofits in the environmental and sustainable development space.
In honor of Earth Month, GREATS also supported the Global Green: Our Cities Coalition campaign to support the development of an 8-acre Climate Park in the City of Ojai. This Climate Park around Ojai’s City Hall will be a living, learning laboratory to educate people on how to live a sustainable lifestyle, reduce the impact of climate change, and educate citizens on how to become climate champions.
The Sis Kiss
Female-owned customizable jewelry, accessories, and fashion bags company, The Sis Kiss, is on a mission to make a resounding impact on the world and support small businesses. Customers can show their support to the organization of their choice by selecting it before proceeding to the checkout page.
Some of the featured causes include the Loveland Foundation—a group committed to showing up for communities of color with a particular focus on Black women and girls—the DuSable Museum of African American History, Black Girls Rock, and Black Girls Code.
TomboyX creates high-quality apparel made for comfort and confidence with sizes from XS - 6X. They are on a mission to create inclusive underwear that anyone can feel comfortable in, no matter where they fall on the size and gender spectrum.
TomboyX has been vocal about inclusivity and social rights since their start. They are committed to supporting the causes that align with their values, especially causes that need immediate support like COVID-19-centered organizations and racial injustice groups.
TomboyX has supported causes such as American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Freedom Fund Network, YouthCare, CampaignZero, and more.
The change starts with you
Standing up for what is right is our human obligation. 2020 taught us to slow down and focus on the things that truly matter. Consumers are more conscious of which brands they want to support, and they reward and judge businesses with each purchase.
It’s time to take concrete action and lead by example. It’s never been easier to raise awareness about critical social issues by encouraging customers to make an impact through purchase.