Social Justice in the Era of Digital Brand Strategy

Contributed by SMPS Oregon Member Hilary Jones, CPSM, Sr. Marketing Coordinator, Interface Engineering, Inc.

Following the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations in cities across the globe, companies spanning nearly every single industry were prompted to create and share communications and public statements addressing current events and their own diversity and inclusion practices. This has fueled a larger conversation about if and how companies should go about taking a stance publicly and communicating their perspectives and intentions. This can often be met with resistance and skepticism among those who believe companies should remain ‘neutral’ and avoid taking sides. 

In this ‘new normal,’ companies need to let go of the idea that they can be apolitical – especially if they are interacting with marginalized individuals (LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, women of all backgrounds, or people with illnesses and disabilities). A marketing strategy for the future includes thinking about more impactful ways to connect with clients and target audience. Moreover, Millennial and Gen Z demographics are the most racially and ethnically diverse in American history (Pew Research, 2018) and they are demanding that companies stand for something beyond their products and services.

The following suggestions outline how companies can take steps to authentically support and engage as an ally and advocate for social justice in the digital space and beyond. These measures present some risk, but they are likely to be rewarded with increased appreciation and a deeper level of  loyalty internally (from staff) and externally. 

  • Companies can play a supportive role as allies by acknowledging current events and relevant content related to social justice. Many companies have posted about International Women’s Day, Pride or holidays recognizing marginalized groups as well as corporate statements regarding anti-racism. This is a great start, but bear in mind, posting publicly without taking meaningful actions can come across as surface level virtue signaling.
  • Companies can commit to making sustainable changes within their organizations for a more diverse and just future through measures, such as inviting in racial equity educators for talks or workshops and investing resources in an internal committee focused on internal diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Companies can take on a more active role by supporting a cause, for example, pledging money or volunteer hours to organizations that advance social justice.
  • Companies can publicly take actions (or non-action) to demonstrate their commitment to backing a cause. A recent example of this is the Milwaukee Bucks refusing to play game 5 of the playoffs following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather the beginning of what needs to be an ongoing conversation. Moreover, a commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality is demonstrated by on-going actions, not a one off social media post. Similarly, digital displays of social justice are only effective if they are driven by authentic and impactful actions.

References

https://www.classy.org/blog/6-socially-responsible-companies-applaud/

https://hbr.org/2020/07/when-a-brand-stands-up-for-racial-justice-do-people-buy-it

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