Brand values have been a center-stage topic in recent months, as people of all ages, ethnicities, and religions have been challenged to reassess how they look at the world and behave in it. Cultural and social events have challenged organizations to do the same, with many making values-based public statements and changes.
Values have long been a part of the corporate conversation, but typically within the confines of diversity and a mission statement. These days, it is about much more. In recent weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement has spun good and bad examples of brand response to social issues that reflect an organization’s moral compass. Companies across all industries like travel, tech, food, and fashion have consistently been slammed for lackluster responses – or none at all.
As with all things, there are lessons to be learned by those around us. Here are a few inspiring examples:
Message clarity is paramount.
No one stood out more than iconic ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s. The company has long had a history of stepping into social justice conversations and taking a firm stance on corporate responsibility and activism. The most recent Black Lives Matter movement was no different; the company made a powerful statement condemning white supremacy and calling for government changes directly. Ben & Jerry’s message was clear and full of conviction. Its leadership — as always – was mission focused and unafraid to address polarizing topics with clarity.
Likewise, equality has had a resurgence in conversations. Alexis Ohanian’s recent announcement that he stepped down from Reddit’s Board is an example of how to use influence and position to be an important ally. His reasoning was clear: to create a vacancy for a black candidate, which was filled by Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel a week later. According to The Verge, Seibel was Y Combinator’s first black partner prior to becoming CEO, and he has supported a number of initiatives to increase diversity in the tech industry, including BlackTech4BlackLives and Black Tech Weekend.
The Lesson: Know where you stand. Have the uncomfortable conversations early and often; decide if there’s an opportunity to reinforce the brand’s values. Work closely across all departments to clearly communicate corporate values and steps the business will take to address issues both internally and externally. Clearly understand that while the C-suite may initially take the lead, the workforce is what keeps efforts alive.
It’s a marathon, not a race.
What also sets Ben & Jerry’s apart is the longevity of its values messaging. While many took part in #BlackOutTuesday, not all have followed up in their commitment to be a part of the solution. In contrast, Ben & Jerry’s most recent blogs have been dedicated to various social issues, continuing to be a model for actionable corporate responsibility.
The Lesson: Support of the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice initiatives aren’t relegated to one point in time. The commitment to do the right thing is a value that needs to live in perpetuity; developing corporate values and articulating them is something to be woven into the fabric of a business. Creating cultural diversity, providing safe spaces to communicate, and broadcasting values externally is important to maintaining a corporate moral code.
Actions speak louder than words.
Social movements appeal to personal individuals because they’re either experienced firsthand, or by someone we know and care about. Often, people are compelled to get involved because it’s simply ‘the right thing to do.’ This is why raising money to fund bail for protestors, or provide legal representation for families torn apart by immigration policies, or those who need help with medical expenses have gained so much momentum over the years. It appeals to the good in all of us. People want to help people.
Similarly, corporations get involved in raising and donating money for social causes of all types. While this is not a new concept, there’s been a surge in corporate and individual wealth being dedicated to important causes. Most recently, Square and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pledged $1 billion of his personal wealth for COVID-19 relief. In 2018, Swiss Billionaire Hansjörg Wyss pledged $1 billion towards environmental protection initiatives. Celebrities and athletes have been known to use their personal wealth to help pay for strangers’ student tuition and medical costs. Efforts like these communicate your personal and brand values, and are a tangible way to make an important difference.
While most of us don’t have this level of financial power, people and businesses of all types have pledged to do their part. No matter how small, every bit counts. At Selligent, we were honored to offer our employees a matching program for their personal contributions to bail funds supporting protestors fighting for equality – an idea actually spearheaded by our own employees. We continue to look for opportunities to support important causes financially, especially those that our employees are passionate about.
The Lesson: It’s not all about money. Regardless of the purpose – social justice, education, environment – many of us are in a position help both financially and in action. We’ve all heard of the now-infamous “Look for the Helpers” quote by Mr. Rogers. If you can do something, whether to march in peaceful protest, to donate to a fundraiser for someone in need, or to have that uncomfortable conversation you need to grow and learn, look for these opportunities and answer the call however you can. Let’s put our words into tangible actions.
Most importantly, be authentic.
Don’t post a black square or issue a statement for the sake of public opinion. Whatever you do, do it with conviction and passion for representing what values you stand for and against. That means: creating a seat at the table for a diverse set of people, having the uncomfortable conversations necessary to know better, acting upon what we learn, and most importantly, nurturing the values that represent the good in all of us.