The outpouring of grief and protest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd is the inescapable story of the week.
It is far too soon to predict exactly what will come from this moment, nor to process everything that is happening right now. It is however a moment that is too all encompassing and important to ignore. Typically, businesses would not comment on perceived social justice issues and not have them inform their branding. Yet right now this feels like a tipping point – in a way that the all too many previous similar tragic instances have not. Accordingly, many of the world’s most high-profile brands (such as Nike) and business leaders – often extremely averse to weighing in on social justice issues – have sensed this moment. We have seen a wide array of public statements and social media branding expressing solidarity with the black community and pledging to join the fight for justice and a way forward.
Large corporations with their public relations departments and brand teams may feel better prepared to make such statements. Smaller business on the other hand may feel reticent to responding for fear of accidentally saying something offensive, or appearing opportunistic and crass. Silence, though can do more harm than good.
Think about how your black employees are feeling this week – it is likely extremely hard for them to adopt a ‘business as usual’ mindset. They will want to feel supported by the organization they work for. Your customers meanwhile, particularly your black customers, want to know whether the brands they support with their hard-earned dollars support them in return. They want to know if those brands care about them as people and not simply customers.
In short: brands who stay silent on the issue put themselves at risk of negatively impacting their business. So what can you do?
- Acknowledge the problem exists in the first place
No issue, no matter how big or small, ever got fixed by ignoring it. This is not the time for a head in the sand ‘business as usual’ approach. Your customers and your employees will want you to stand up and be counted at this pivotal moment in history. This could be as simple as a message of support on your social media channels, email outreach; your website or even in your store window. This effectively is the minimum we should be doing, but acknowledging the problem exists at all is a good first step. For many businesses that has been as simple as promoting the ‘Black Lives Matter’ message, and in some respects it is often better to keep it simple – this should not be a marketing exercise rather a pure and simple expression of solidarity.
Union Craft Brewing made a public statement on social media and encouraged customers to get out and vote in the primaries.
Woodberry Wellness Center went with a simple Black Lives Matter message:
- Back your words up with actions.
For all the progressive ideals espoused by businesses, we must recognize how important it is to also follow through with actions and demonstrations of that support and solidarity. Your customers will want to feel an ongoing sense of belonging and those that make positive statements before quickly reverting to business as usual will stand out in a negative way.
Many individuals and business have been donating to organizations and non-profits doing important work to support the movement for change. Fells Point’s Mexican street food eatery Cocinas Luchadoras has donated 10 percent of all sales to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, whilst Greedy Reads book store is donating 15 percent of all sales to Antiracist Research & Policy Center and the Baltimore Brew.
We are of course still living in a time where business big and small are struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. If financial contributions are not possible there are other ways to help. Start by assessing the diversity of your own workforce; think about who your suppliers are; and ensure your marketing and advertising outreach is always inclusive.
- Listen and learn: keep an ongoing dialogue with your customers and employees
This is not a time for top down decree. There is no problem whatsoever with acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers. You may have employees better placed than you to speak of the minority experience. Your customers may have ideas how to help and change in a positive way. Create as safe and open space for that to happen.
The Baltimore Orioles made several brief statements of solidarity on their Twitter feed before allowing comment and discussion around the issue and retweeting some comments.