Brands Cannot Be Silent and Ignore Injustice

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

Following the horrific death of George Floyd, which sparked protests not only in the U.S. but around the world, countless influencers and celebrities spoke out across social media and online platforms to fight racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

One brand that continues to demonstrate bravery when it comes to addressing race relations is Nike, who released a new ad across its digital channels. The ad featured plain white text over a black screen stating:

For once, don’t do it.

Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.

Don’t turn your back on racism.

Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us.

Don’t make any more excuses.

Don’t think this doesn’t affect you.

Don’t sit back and be silent.

Don’t think you can’t be part of the change.

Let’s all be part of the change.

Nike doesn’t shy away from taking a stand on issues of race, evident from their Colin Kaepernick ad in Sept. 2018. There were many other brands that made statements on social media in response to the tragedy, including the NFL, Netflix, and Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few. Following its original May 30 post, Netflix shared the following on June 10, letting followers know of its intention to highlight Black storytelling:

There also have been brands that have pledged significant donations to related organizations and initiatives, including Warby Parker and Peloton.

Standing up and addressing societal issues isn’t a new concept in marketing. Marketing leaders have been talking about and advising brands to be brave and bold for years. But there are still some brands too hesitant to speak out and take action. Why?

You don’t need significant resources to communicate your support and condolences, but you must be genuine and authentic in however you share your message. Accept that you can’t please everyone and there will be critics, but sharing your support and values is important. When speaking out about social issues, consider the following:

  • Talk to your employees: Use internal channels to reach employees and initiate a two-way conversation.
  • Think about the appropriate channels: Social media can be an ideal place to join the dialogue, but you may have a good reason to email your subscribers.

And where it’s possible, find ways to align with a cause that complements your brand’s values and focuses on supporting racial and social justice.

Consumers and employees want to know that brands are paying attention and will not tolerate inequality, violence, and prejudice. Now is the time to make a statement and help facilitate change.

Crafting a Branding Plan in 3 Steps

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

When you were young and slept over your friends’ houses, you noticed the difference of the whole home experience. Each house had its own smell, right? Your friends’ families had different routines, foods, laundry detergent, etc. Every family ends up making their own home style … you could even say they have their own brand. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. In the case of strong brands, all the “touches” of the house seems to make sense. For example, in my house, where we don’t watch much television, we cut cable and tuck our TV flat screen inside an armoire so it doesn’t show. That makes sense for our family and our home. A huge TV on our wall would be “off-brand.”

In thinking about building a branding plan like you would a house, I like to tell my students that they can build it up in 3 steps:

Step 1: Positioning – ‘The Foundation’

Positioning is what the brand is built on. How a brand shows it’s different than other brands is the beginning of being unique and making sure your story is something that is compelling. And if a foundation is made of concrete and soil, Positioning is made of Customer Research + Competition Analysis.

By understanding what customers want and are motivated by, plus knowing your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, you find a position that is both attractive to your buyers and different than your competitors. No single business is best at everything, and if your strengths align with what customers actually want, then leverage that strength to solidify your position.

Helpful Tip: Use this framework to craft an internal Positioning Statement: {BRAND NAME} is the brand of {FRAME OF REFERENCE} that {POINT OF DIFFERENCE} because {REASON TO BELIEVE}.

It worked for Snickers. Snickers laid a beautiful, simple, and extremely strong brand foundation with this Positioning Statement: SNICKERS is the brand of CANDY BAR that SATISFIES YOUR HUNGER because IT’S PACKED WITH PEANUTS.

Step 2: Brand Architecture – ‘The Floorplan’

With the foundation put down, the brand story has a place to start and be built upon. In previous articles I wrote about creating the five words that help describe a brand, and a description if your brand were a person, and those exercises come into play here. By using descriptive words and personality types, you place the shape and boundaries of what your brand is and is not.

Think of it as creating the rooms, angles, steps, roofing, landscaping and more when planning how a home will be built. What will the “house” will be? Will it be a cute and funky urban 1-bedroom, a fabricated suburban McMansion, or a minimalist Haus in grey and black?

For example, Warby Parker made an intentional decision to begin with an online experience (in 2010), and then expand into retail locations. They now have 100 locations, and the question would be, what would those retail experiences be like? The Brand Expression (Step 3) follows from that. Since personalization is the position of the Warby Parker online and instore experience, they made the logical decision to have unique stores in each city. Every store — San Diego to Pittsburgh — looks different. It’s really cool and personal. That’s a natural Brand Architecture to sit on top of their Brand Position.

Step 3: Marketing Expression – ‘The Paint, Furniture and Fixtures’

The “Marketing Expression” is finally what the customer sees. It’s the messaging, the actual words and images, the YouTube videos, etc. Continuing the analogy, the Expression is the choice of furniture, the armoire, the wall color, the decorative touches, etc., in a house.

With the Position (Foundation) and the Brand Architecture (Floorplan), the Marketing Expression should actually be a fairly easy set of decisions to where you can see if something fits or doesn’t fit. In my house, for example, a huge TV or a strobe-light “Miller Beer” sign would be a terrible and awkward fit … as would an antique suit of armor in the corner. Instead, a painted armoire, decorative fabric on the chairs, small cardboard Chinese dragons placed keenly around the house, are perfect fits.

For Warby Parker, the natural extension of the position of offering personal eyewear and the brand architecture of personalizing the online and retail experience is: The San Diego store has an image of two readers lounging on a big book that looks like a floatie in a pool. It’s the final touch of personalization for San Diego, which is different than the personalization for Pittsburgh. It’s a touch that gives their brand consistency, memorability, and uniqueness.

Just like the homes we visited as children give us a smell, sound, texture and memory, so do the great brands. They feel like homes we visit, giving us a wonderful and memorable experience.