As the co-founder and head of strategy of branding agency Tote + Pears, I sometimes meet with clients who are concerned about taking a public stance on social or cultural issues. Even with the best of intentions — and in moments of clarity and overwhelming public opinion — taking a public stance can be a difficult decision for many businesses.
Many companies have turned to social media to express their allyship with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many brands were swift and decisive in their messaging, and others hesitated, worried that they’d either say the wrong thing or be perceived as unsupportive if they didn’t say anything at all.
It’s understandable that a business owner would worry about the effect a public position would have on their brand. But I’ve found that when businesses are authentic and thoughtful in their messages, taking a position isn’t something to fear.
If you have something to say about current events, consider these steps before making your public statement.
1. Remember your values.
Your message has a better chance of coming across as authentic if it stems from your brand identity and reflects your values. So, how do your values stand up in moments like this? Are they being challenged?
An impactful statement is one that aligns with your brand. If you speak about the importance of diversity, back it up by embodying diversity with inclusive hiring practices and marketing strategies.
A company’s response can take various forms — public statement, internal statement, donation to a cause, social media campaign or, in some cases, even silence. Take the course of action that feels right for your business. Then spend some time thinking about what you want to say and how your messages will tie back to your values.
2. Research before drafting a statement.
Before you get started, do some research so you are well-informed before you respond. Doing so will help you think through possible conflicts of interest or concerns that your customers or others may have in advance.
Many business owners attempt to tackle an issue based on very little first-hand experience. It’s OK to speak from that place. Your brand will come across as sincere if you are honest about where you stand.
If you expect your audience to take the time to read a statement about an important issue, that statement needs to be impactful. It needs to be real and have depth, and it needs to demonstrate your familiarity with the issue. So be sure to do your research. A sharp audience will be able to tell if you’re winging it.
3. Think about your audience.
You may have the best intentions, but how will your words impact your audience?
Consider this exercise: Pause to think about how various audiences will feel about certain words or phrases compared with how you feel about them. Some business owners may find it difficult to truly empathize with their audience, in which case it would be wise to consult with an expert to help you craft a message that is authentic and that resonates with your audience.
For example, members of the Black community may want to see that the brand supports them in theory and in practice. Speaking about injustices in addition to inclusive hiring and marketing practices is one way to show the community holistic support.
4. Evaluate your brand.
An impactful statement is one that aligns with your brand. If you speak about the importance of diversity, back it up by embodying diversity with inclusive hiring practices and marketing strategies. The messaging you choose moving forward should align with the brand and not just the moment. If you need to make adjustments to your values, you should take action to do so.
This may also mean evaluating your brand and updating your positioning, messaging, products, packaging and identity. The update might be a welcomed change. After all, rebranding, especially for the right reason, is a healthy way for a business to evolve.
5. Craft and distribute your message.
While messaging should embody a brand’s values, it’s important for it to connect on a human level, too. Take the time to craft a message that is clear in stating the problem and your position on it. Specificity helps here. Facts, statistics and testimonies are useful in supporting your stance, and show that you’ve been paying attention.
Make your statement actionable. Include the steps you’ll take to affect change, and perhaps call on others to do the same. This message is an extension of your brand identity and a reflection of your values, so be sure to post widely—in a prominent place on your website, in your newsletter and on all social media channels.
Right now, people are paying close attention to how businesses are responding — or not responding — to the issues on the forefront of the American consciousness. Consumers need to see that businesses truly care. People recognize authenticity and appreciate sincerity. So put the effort into showing up authentically and thoughtfully with a statement that is meaningful and truly reflective of your brand.
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