When we think about how brands fit into a social movement—and specifically in 2020, the BLM movement—we think of two main things as objectives.
    1. Avoid negative repercussions from saying nothing or saying the “wrong” thing about the social movement.
    2. Achieve positive brand perception from current and prospective customers by saying and doing the “right” thing.
What’s “wrong” or “right” in these cases comes down to whether or not the actions and statements align with the brand’s core values. If they’re realistically something your brand would do.
If you know who you are as a brand, this makes it easy to know what a brand like yours should do in this situation. “Right” and “wrong” become pretty clear. If you don’t, you’re going to struggle. So, if you’re like most brands who don’t have a handle on who they are, the first, biggest, and most important step, is self-exploration.
BLM is causing brands to pause and evaluate, but this is likely not the last major issue brands will have to address in 2020, and definitely not in the coming decade. The key to handling moments like this is knowing yourself (the brand) well and ensuring everyone representing the brand is clear and in lockstep.
More specifically, what can you do now? Here are a few thoughts:
1. From May 25 until mid-June, we were in a “cover your butt” type moment where brands needed to move quickly to address the issue in the short term. We’ve now moved into a longer-term focus where brands are looking to the future to see what kind of substantive changes they can make. Examples may include ongoing donations of specific amounts, changes to the diversity of staff, etc… *Don’t make any more BLM-related claims/statements unless you’re making a tangible commitment to do or change something.*
2. If you’ve already committed to “listen, learn and act.” The need now is to make that commitment tangible. What is the brand listening to? What are you learning? How will you act? Lots of brands have made promises, the ones who don’t follow through risk negative backlash in the “call-out culture.” *Make sure you’re being authentic and living up to the promises you’ve made.*
3. *Look your brand in the mirror and find/fix areas where you’re not aligned to your values.* Uber, Levi’s and Starbucks are great examples of brands who have made or committed to making substantive changes to operations to better align with what they believe in.
These are all tough challenges for a marketing department because internal actions have become just as important as external. Hiring practices matter just as much as marketing messages. Diversity in leadership is just as meaningful as variety in photo models. An unintentionally racist corporate policy can’t be covered up by an inclusive ad campaign.
Historically, marketing has been about impacting perception in a way that often exceeds or moves away from reality—spinning negative aspects and highlighting positive attributes.
In part, this approach has led to a culture where we no longer trust the major institutions in our lives. We’ve learned that we must take matters into our own hands. We must diligently monitor the brands we buy from and the companies that employ us, to keep the pressure on them to make the decisions we expect.
So today, marketing departments need to begin to shift quickly to become the voice of the consumer in the company. They need to be agents of change inside the company to push for better overall alignment around values.
The first of Socrates’ Delphic maxims is to “know thyself.” We can be pretty sure he wasn’t telling brands how to handle a global social movement, but 2,000+ years later, it’s still the best advice there is. 
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