When it comes to ensuring customers respect your brand, honesty is as important as the message.
Standing up for racial justice is high on the agenda for companies across the world, reflecting the strength of feeling championed by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Writing for Harvard Business Review, marketing professors Geeta Menon and Tina Kiesler explain that how your business demonstrates its commitment to racial issues dictates the way consumers assess your authenticity.
YOU HAVE TO BE CREDIBLE
“A majority of Americans of all generations say that how a brand responds to racial justice protests will influence whether they buy or boycott the brand in the future.” Millennial and Gen Z consumers feel particularly strongly about this issue, with a recent survey finding that 69% of people from these groups believe brands should be actively involved in the BLM movement.
Heralding your solidarity with BLM and other causes, sending out your own anti-racist messages, financially backing racial justice causes and rejecting businesses that have racist or ambiguous connections are all very well. But, in terms of building brand loyalty, you need to be sure that your actions are credible. This is particularly important if you are not a black-owned company, or black and ethnic minorities are poorly represented at executive level in your organisation.
Consumers want to know that a brand is true to both its own message and to their expectations at the corporate level. They also want to know whether a firm’s message translates to community responsibility, and its values are in line with their own priorities on a societal level. Consumers favour firms whose anti-racist message is active, for example taking a direct part in campaigns, over passive support for other people’s actions.
Make sure your firm’s anti-racist message is supported by deeds. Here, the authors rate four main anti-racist strategies for authenticity.
1) Making up for past mistakes. Reversing decisions your brand no longer supports – for example, using packaging images that promote unacceptable racial stereotypes – is definitely desirable. However, it’s an essentially corporate-focused and passive action that won’t convince many consumers of your genuine commitment to social justice. Authenticity rating: low.
2) Campaigning to gain customers. You can make your brand more attractive to consumers by actively supporting a cause they care about. For example, women’s footwear brand, Aerosoles demonstrated its active support for racial justice by declaring it would give 10% from each sale to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. While it’s clearly benefiting an organisation that actively supports the BLM issue, there’s also clear brand self-interest in attracting new custom. Authenticity rating: low to medium.
3) Allying to wider social issues. Fairly passive and focused beyond the corporate, this kind of action is unlikely to bring financial gains for your business, but could underline the brand’s commitment to racial justice. Netlflix, for example, acknowledged the BLM movement by curating allied content. Authenticity rating: medium to high.
4) Taking actively anti-racist steps. Showing that you will act to support an important issue, regardless of positive or negative impact on your business, will convince consumers of your brand’s integrity and inspire loyalty. For example, after he was abandoned by the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem, Nike chose Colin Kaepernick as the face of their Just Do It campaign Authenticity rating: high.
In a climate in which consumers are increasingly concerned and vociferous about racial justice, your brand best earns customer loyalty by energetically and authentically showing its support for BLM. Actions speak louder than words – for consumers to respect your brand, you must show that your firm is willing and prepared to act according to its principles.