Why brand purpose matters in the era of social media activism
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Like the majority of people around the world, I felt righteous indignation, outrage, pain and trauma at the brutal murder of George Floyd, and many other known and unknown black victims of racist crimes.
However, my indignation didn't start there. It's been a part of my life for over 30 years because of my own lived experience of racism right from childhood. Over many years, I actively studied the history of black people, from it's wondrous heights to its absolute lows, to gain a broader historical context for our predicament. From my research, the transatlantic slave trade significantly contributed to the present condition and subjugation of black people.
“By the 1480s, Portuguese ships were already transporting Africans for use as slaves on the sugar plantations in the Cape Verde and Madeira islands in the eastern Atlantic. Spanish conquistadors took African slaves to the Caribbean after 1502, but Portuguese merchants continued to dominate the transatlantic slave trade for another century and a half, operating from their bases in the Congo-Angola area along the west coast of Africa. The Dutch became the foremost slave traders during parts of the 1600s, and in the following century English and French merchants controlled about half of the transatlantic slave trade, taking a large percentage of their human cargo from the region of West Africa between the Sénégal and Niger rivers.” Retrieved from Britannica.
From the period between the 16th to 19th century, approximately 10 to 12 million Africans were transported as slaves to the Americas.
Today, while America, Britain and many other European nations enjoy the benefits, wealth, legacy systems and inheritance achieved from the transatlantic slave trade, the majority of black countries and people are suffering for the exact same reason.
Without being too simplistic, when men are driven by greed, fear and hate, the result is often the same - systematic oppression, violence, murder, and the abuse of power. This can happen within one's own race too, as well as between different races, tribes and nations.
Why diversity and inclusion matters
In the present economic and global climate, where public outrage and protests against racism, oppression, injustices and inequality continue to receive widespread media attention; along with the growing concerns over environmental sustainability, brands must have a clear purpose that consumers and the general public alike can stand behind, believe in, and support.
Diversity and inclusion should not be viewed as a charitable endeavour. Instead, it should be seen as an ethical and commercial imperative. For many brands that rely on black people and other minorities to consume their products and services, their very survival will depend on it in this era of social media activism.
According to Korn Ferry management consulting, companies who have ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform on profitability. They are 83% more likely to drive better innovation, 75% more likely to see ideas become productised; and 70% more likely to capture new markets.
"Black spending power in the United States is expected to rise to $1.5 trillion by 2021, from about $1.3 trillion last year, according to a report by Nielsen, a data analytics firm that tracks consumer purchases. The Black community makes up 13.4% of the U.S. population and outspends in relation to other groups on products such as hair care and beauty, and women's fragrances." Retrieved from Yahoo
The black economic power can only continue to grow across all categories and industries. As such, brands will be prudent to align themselves to this trend, not only through better black representation in senior management positions, but also in all aspects of the supply chain ecosystem, sales channels, recruitment processes, media channels and platforms, technology and innovation, and advertising and marketing.
Diversity and inclusion must be at every level so that a diverse voice can be heard which better reflects the world that we live in.
The future is diversity, inclusion and sustainability
In the very near future, a brand's active demonstration of its diversity and inclusion representation, as well as its sustainability initiatives, could well be a deciding factor as to whether consumers choose to support it or seek out its competitors. This may not only be true for brands, in relation to customer acquisition and retention, but it could well be a differentiator for companies during the recruitment process too.
Brands must take diversity, inclusion and sustainability seriously if they are to survive, attract talent and grow.
The activism of Generation Z
In one of my previous articles titled, 'Can brands thrive in times of uncertainty?’, I talked about how 'Generation Z' is a generation of activists. I used the example of Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, who single-handedly changed the climate conversation. She drew sustained media attention on climate change through her well-publicised, provocative and emotive activism. Because of her determination and passion for saving our planet, the sustainability conversation has deepened, and brands are beginning to take action to drive measurable change. Many corporate objectives and strategies now include sustainability.
This goes to demonstrate the power an individual has (through media and technology) to affect global policies and drive change at scale.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people, including young activists, like Greta, are fighting for a different cause. A cause first fought on plantation fields (by slaves), on the battlefield (during the American Revolution between 1775 - 1783), and on the consciousness of men for centuries. It is the noble fight for equality and justice for black people; and the right to be treated as a human being. Unfortunately, this fight is still being fought in 2020.
However, we are in a unique precipice in time, in an awakening where all people, of every race, are saying "enough is enough. Racism must end, and it must end now." The palpable voice of the once voiceless black minorities in the west is finally being heard. Amplified by the voices of others standing on the right side of history against racism and bigotry.
The mobilisation of the once silent majority
The once silent majority of the previous generations and those who benefitted from white privilege, on the most part, didn't have the collective and sustained will or appetite to see through the fight to end racism. Perhaps the fight against racism was perceived to be either too daunting, costly, hopeless or unimportant. Or worse, it was concluded to be mild or non-existent. For some people, it is simply easier to underplay the severity of racism because they don't experience it first-hand or inadvertently benefit from it. After all, the notion that slavery was hundreds of years ago is still a popular argument. Yet, the benefits of its abhorrent legacy, generational wealth and oppressive systems continue to be enjoyed by those same privileged groups. While, simultaneously, damaging and in some cases destroying those who have to endure under the debilitating weight of racism and systems of oppression.
The racism pandemic and bigotry has been left unabated for far too long.
The power of social media activism
Social media has made it possible for people to organise and mobilise against institutional racism. The deafening chorus of 'Black Lives Matter' (BLM) as seen across the globe in recent weeks has caused many brands to take notice. It compelled them to put out solidarity statements to support the BLM movement. Silence no longer seemed like a viable option. Silence is now perceived as complicit or inadvertent support of racism. Slogans such as 'silence is violence', and its many variants surfaced on placards held by protestors around the world.
No one should feel comfortable sitting on the fence on the issue of racism henceforth. Unless they consciously support it.
As a direct response to the public outcry against racism, and consumers and employees unrest, many brands have begun to develop strategies, plans and policies that aim to drive change and address the imbalance and lack of black and minority representation in positions of power within corporations, institutions and organisations.
However, there is genuine scepticism as to whether brands are truly willing to put in the hard work required to bring about meaningful and permanent change and end racism within their own sphere of influence, the work environment. I choose to be optimistic about it. However, time will tell.
Brand purpose, why it matters
A brand purpose that has strong ethical roots, positive social cause and sustainability will drive consumer confidence during these times of uncertainty, instability and social unrest.
Here's an extract about 'Why purpose matters' from my book, The Intelligent Change Management Guide (page 30). Available on Amazon.
"Organisational purpose matters because it is the guiding light of the business. It embodies everything the organisation desires to achieve, and it continues to inspire those who are part of the organisation decades after its founders have departed. When an organisation is true to its purpose, it is invariably in harmony with itself: it knows itself and is likely to bring fulfilment to its customers and employees alike. This, in turn, gives it life and soul, allowing it to confidently express itself without disrepute and to stand out from its competitors.
Businesses, products and services are born primarily as a means of value exchange. Goods and services are exchanged for currency. Fiat currencies and, recently, cryptocurrencies continue to propagate the long-established tradition of value exchange. The reasons and motivations that drive people to pursue business endeavours are vast and varied. They range from a simple desire to make a living to independence, flexibility, wealth, happiness, security, success, power, influence, popularity, self-esteem, access to luxuries and so on.
However, the above items are temporal and somewhat fleeting. Organisations that endure over very long periods of time have a purpose that goes beyond the temporal. They seek to make a lasting impact that elevates the consciousness of the human spirit and to positively contribute to the improvement or advancement of the human condition in some shape or form.
Not every organisation has a purpose. Some organisations do have a purpose but do not live up to it for various reasons, while some organisations have lost their purpose and instead exist only to acquire wealth—which, in itself, becomes their very purpose. Unfortunately, those organisations do not have a compelling reason to continue to exist, and their customers and employees do not have a compelling reason to remain loyal to them. When a better or a more attractive product or service comes along, an organisation without a purpose may be abandoned by its customers.”
You can make a difference today
A brand with purpose, a reason to exist that is fundamentally altruistic, will endure. Humans are inspired and motivated by a higher calling; by a purpose so meaningful that it gives their own lives significance.
Most people want to live in a better and fairer world where everyone has a fair chance to prosper. However, no man is an island. We all need each other, and we are stronger together.
To have an immediate impact today, consider actioning the following:
Search within yourself and determine whether you are consistently fair, and without bias in all of your decisions. If not, address it with immediacy.
Strive to be the best version of yourself every single day, and hold yourself accountable to a higher standard of ethics and virtue.
Speak up for those without a voice.
Fight for truth, fairness and equality, for everyone. You may have to sacrifice a little to achieve it and feel uncomfortable in the process. Remember that others have fought and made sacrifices for the privileges you now enjoy.
The finger of blame should not be pointed at others for their shortcomings. Instead, focus on the positive difference you can make today. Ideally, by setting the correct example for others to follow.
If we all do the above, we will contribute to creating a better world for everyone.