For as long as we can remember, brands have always chosen to stay out of social and political debates. This is due to the fear of losing out on sections of their customer base. While that has worked for a long time, times have changed now. With the advent of social media, heated conversations dominate newsfeeds, and silence from brands is certainly not appreciated.
As communication professionals, we are in a position to advise companies on how to speak about racial justice, social inclusion, gender equality (and other socially relevant issues). How can we ensure brands get this right?
Here’s what experts from PRecious Communications have to say on this subject.
Understand what your brand truly stands for
It is one thing to have an opinion about hot topics and another to lead by example. We’re seeing brands getting called out for not having their house in order only after making statements on societal issues – often because the leadership wasn’t aware of the issues internally. Therefore you should start with a thorough assessment of what the brand and its leaders and affiliates stand for. Scrutinise yourself internally, regularly listen to your community, and take actions in support of that change you want to see.
The tides are shifting as consumers are demanding brands to be clear what’s their accepted impact in the communities they operate in and therefore their point of view on issues reaching from diversity and inclusion to sustainability and equality. We are seeing companies globally supporting Pride Month and Pink Dot in Singapore or, boycotting social networks for not acting on racism, misinformation, or hate speech – and that was unimaginable just a couple of years ago! The change is here, and brands have to not only decide if they act but first and foremost, what it is they stand for in the first place that truly connects them with their stakeholders.
Contributed by Lars Voedisch, Founder and Managing Director, PRecious Communications
A commitment to action is hollow without follow-through
There is an adage that the customer is always right. In a more woke age, part of this proposition has evolved – businesses need to show investors and the market that they are doing alright, in addition to showing the community they are doing the right thing. Here’s where the importance of strategic communications comes through.
Modern leaders cannot avoid being indifferent towards having a stance on sustainability, equality and justice – it is the norm, not the exception, and bound to come up in conversations with stakeholders. One thing brands need to be mindful of while navigating speaking around a cause – it is never just a one and done, or a box to tick off for business leaders. It is often an invitation to initiate conversation, inviting questions about the company’s policies and operations moving forward. It might also open questions around past activities which understandably might unsettle business leaders. However, the message there must be clear – we are better today and will be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.
Business leaders need to work closely with their communications teams to align their stance on issues. This will help them to follow through effectively, both inside and outside their walls.
Contributed by Prayaank Gupta, Head of Growth & Innovation at PRecious Communications
Strike a balance between business goals and brand beliefs
Increasingly, we see the impact of taking a stand on business objectives such as higher event participation or other activity that wins loyalty and impacts sales directly as well as indirectly. In this day and age, brand belief has morphed from the ‘product/service transformative’ language to one that nuances social impact. The functional benefits and differentiators are the hygiene factors that all brands will need to possess. To cut through the clutter, we need to ensure that brands lead the storytelling with empirical examples of running their organisation using an inclusive business model.
While it is an excellent idea to champion, how do we then streamline this process? Start with a light initiative and communicate clearly to your internal stakeholders – employees, partners, collaborators and suppliers. They are your biggest advocates and will proliferate the ideals behind the brand and its services and products.
Contributed by Robin Chang, Regional Head, Client Advisory at PRecious Communications
Be authentic and prioritise employees’ views
Being authentic is the most important advice I would give to any startups or brands. Commenting about social issues is not about marketing, it’s sharing how a business leader views social issues in their capacity as an individual and a senior business person.
However, this needs to be considered carefully: always remember that every public communication will also have a business impact beyond the personal. Startups and all businesses are part of the community they operate in – be it recruiting talent or interacting with customers. And potential employees and customers are human too, and generally prefer to work with people whose values align with theirs.
Beyond external audiences, it is also essential to consider or even prioritise, internal viewpoints. Highly innovative companies and startups are staffed by enthusiastic professionals. They, as individuals, might have their views on these issues and will be most impacted by what their leaders say publicly.
Contributed by Clarence Lim, Client Services Director, PRecious Communications
If not thoroughly thought through, things can spiral out of control
Studies show that brands that enjoy good reputations with the consumers are ones that stand up for social causes and actively comment on hot-button issues. Technology brands today realise the need to be a part of this broader cultural narrative, and companies such as Google, Netflix, Twitter are taking a stand.
However, being ‘woke’ comes with its challenges. If not thoroughly thought through, things can spiral out of control. With the proliferation of social media platforms, organisations and business leaders are now expected to proffer their thoughts on political, economic and societal issues – beyond business – but they don’t always have to. With time, people will only remember if you got it wrong and not whether you genuinely had a point of view. Choose wisely! Once you have done that, brands also need to educate why the cause is essential to the brand – because consumers can easily tell an authentic stance from a disingenuous one.
Contributed by Rajiv Menon, Client Services Director – PRecious Communications
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