Insights

Actions, not words: How brands can act with purpose and stand for change

Posted by
Lindsey Gillard
Insights

Actions, not words: How brands can act with purpose and stand for change

Écrit par
Lindsey Gillard

For the past several months, the world has been spinning a lot faster than usual, yanking us out of our comfort zones and shaking us awake.

We have witnessed a global health crisis and a civil-rights uprising like nothing we have seen in recent history. Unease, distrust and a profound need for change are at the forefront of news cycles all over the globe and every industry has been disrupted – both economically and culturally.

Brands are at a critical inflection point. Many have underestimated or ignored their ability to make an impact concerning social issues and to drive change. Some have found it easier to shy away from bold statements and remain neutral. In other instances, brands prioritized promoting convenience and quality over purpose; a social responsibility platform was considered a "nice to have" or a box to check.

No one expected the world to change overnight, but it did. And with this new change came a more aware consumer – conscious about where they spend money, treating each purchase like a pledge of support, and insistent on knowing what their favourite brands stand for.

Today, brands are being forced to look outward instead of inward, and to consider those that are supporting them more profoundly. With a swell of world issues came a requirement to care less about simply selling something and care more about showing up for humanity.

Over the past five months, we've seen it all, and while some brands stood up and tried their best, an overwhelming majority fell short. The fundamental mistake that brands are being accused of right now is "woke-washing” and “performative allyship.” Many were too quick to jump on trending topics and bandwagons, failing to understand the impact of recent events on consumer behaviour and completely ignoring the shift in consumer expectations.

The point here is simple - acting with purpose is no longer an option but a necessity. Your brand’s social responsibility platform should not be born out of crisis. Outlined below are some critical areas to consider if you’re looking to go beyond the surface level in your thinking and actions and drive meaningful change. While it would be naïve to believe these simple tips could provide solves for operating in today’s climate, they provide a start. And we all must start somewhere.      

Listen and learn

Stop thinking like a brand and start behaving like a human being. The key principle of acting with purpose is to start addressing humanity and social issues directly. While in the current climate it's tempting to rush an emotional decision about establishing, redefining or clarifying your brand's purpose, it's important to remember that ‘knowing what we don't know’ is critical to moving forward. So, the first and most crucial step is to listen and learn.

Assess your core demographic. What are you hearing from your audience? What is the tension? Who are you speaking to? What are you learning from them?

Next, implement social media and media-listening tactics. The listening programs should be inclusive of monitoring your brand and competitors, industry and economic sector, to generate valuable insights for both short- and long-term action plans.

Remember to rely on data and research if you have it, but don't wait for it. There’s a reason why we're hearing the word "unprecedented" so much lately – this is a net new set of circumstances, so all existing data can quickly be deemed outdated. Data is helpful in informing the direction of your business decisions and marketing, but if you wait for numbers on how people perceive your actions, you will be too late.

Act swiftly

An effective plan should include both short and long-term approaches. By starting with a short-term plan of action, you're recognizing the sense of urgency of the issue and immediately becoming an active participant in change-making. It’s not about perfection – it’s about action and learning. Embrace humility and lead.

Enacting a short-term plan also gives you the opportunity and time to form long-term goals. When developing this plan, it's important to recognize the difference between performative purpose and real advocacy – your plan doesn't have to be perfect, but it must be meaningful. Most importantly, your pledge and commitments need to have a tangible counterpart – whether it’s donations or resources.

Focus on what you can do. Invest in issues and causes you and your audience care about and speak with actions, before words.

Embrace change

This is both the easiest and hardest part of this process. Remove the words "tweak" and "adjust" from your business strategies. Understand that your purpose isn't a 24-hour initiative. It's a commitment you've made, and it needs to be reflected in your external and internal culture – not just in your marketing and PR, but in your product development and, ultimately, in your budget.

For the past several months, the world has been spinning a lot faster than usual, yanking us out of our comfort zones and shaking us awake.

We have witnessed a global health crisis and a civil-rights uprising like nothing we have seen in recent history. Unease, distrust and a profound need for change are at the forefront of news cycles all over the globe and every industry has been disrupted – both economically and culturally.

Brands are at a critical inflection point. Many have underestimated or ignored their ability to make an impact concerning social issues and to drive change. Some have found it easier to shy away from bold statements and remain neutral. In other instances, brands prioritized promoting convenience and quality over purpose; a social responsibility platform was considered a "nice to have" or a box to check.

No one expected the world to change overnight, but it did. And with this new change came a more aware consumer – conscious about where they spend money, treating each purchase like a pledge of support, and insistent on knowing what their favourite brands stand for.

Today, brands are being forced to look outward instead of inward, and to consider those that are supporting them more profoundly. With a swell of world issues came a requirement to care less about simply selling something and care more about showing up for humanity.

Over the past five months, we've seen it all, and while some brands stood up and tried their best, an overwhelming majority fell short. The fundamental mistake that brands are being accused of right now is "woke-washing” and “performative allyship.” Many were too quick to jump on trending topics and bandwagons, failing to understand the impact of recent events on consumer behaviour and completely ignoring the shift in consumer expectations.

The point here is simple - acting with purpose is no longer an option but a necessity. Your brand’s social responsibility platform should not be born out of crisis. Outlined below are some critical areas to consider if you’re looking to go beyond the surface level in your thinking and actions and drive meaningful change. While it would be naïve to believe these simple tips could provide solves for operating in today’s climate, they provide a start. And we all must start somewhere.      

Listen and learn

Stop thinking like a brand and start behaving like a human being. The key principle of acting with purpose is to start addressing humanity and social issues directly. While in the current climate it's tempting to rush an emotional decision about establishing, redefining or clarifying your brand's purpose, it's important to remember that ‘knowing what we don't know’ is critical to moving forward. So, the first and most crucial step is to listen and learn.

Assess your core demographic. What are you hearing from your audience? What is the tension? Who are you speaking to? What are you learning from them?

Next, implement social media and media-listening tactics. The listening programs should be inclusive of monitoring your brand and competitors, industry and economic sector, to generate valuable insights for both short- and long-term action plans.

Remember to rely on data and research if you have it, but don't wait for it. There’s a reason why we're hearing the word "unprecedented" so much lately – this is a net new set of circumstances, so all existing data can quickly be deemed outdated. Data is helpful in informing the direction of your business decisions and marketing, but if you wait for numbers on how people perceive your actions, you will be too late.

Act swiftly

An effective plan should include both short and long-term approaches. By starting with a short-term plan of action, you're recognizing the sense of urgency of the issue and immediately becoming an active participant in change-making. It’s not about perfection – it’s about action and learning. Embrace humility and lead.

Enacting a short-term plan also gives you the opportunity and time to form long-term goals. When developing this plan, it's important to recognize the difference between performative purpose and real advocacy – your plan doesn't have to be perfect, but it must be meaningful. Most importantly, your pledge and commitments need to have a tangible counterpart – whether it’s donations or resources.

Focus on what you can do. Invest in issues and causes you and your audience care about and speak with actions, before words.

Embrace change

This is both the easiest and hardest part of this process. Remove the words "tweak" and "adjust" from your business strategies. Understand that your purpose isn't a 24-hour initiative. It's a commitment you've made, and it needs to be reflected in your external and internal culture – not just in your marketing and PR, but in your product development and, ultimately, in your budget.

Lindsey Gillard
Senior Vice President
Lindsey is an award-winning brand marketing strategist with a passion for lifestyle brands. For the past 15 years, Lindsey has worked with global brands in both advertising and public relations roles across a broad range of industries, including travel tourism, hospitality, health & beauty, entertainment, and financial services.