For the longest time, brands have been neutral when it came to politics and social issues. But with the current rise in globalization, onslaught of social media, and recent social issues, came greater responsibilities for brands and business owners alike. Nowadays, brands who opt for neutrality are getting backlash. With their respective platforms being seen as avenues to enlighten their followers on current issues, it seems that audiences now look up to their favorite brands to speak up for them.
However, speaking up about issues only when they’re relevant or trending is precisely where businesses seem to get it wrong. Social issues can’t be changed unless there’s a systemic change, and this starts internally. This is what ethical brand culture is about.
What exactly is ethical brand culture? A business that upholds an ethical brand culture believes in being sustainable, not only in its literal sense, but in upholding certain values and living out what your brand stands for. Here are some things that can help you create an ethical culture for your brand.
Acknowledge That There is a Problem. The first step to an ethical brand culture is to accept that your brand is not perfect and that it can do better. A lot of brands, especially the big ones, find it a lot harder to undergo radical transformations in their internal systems and brand messaging, so even the process of acknowledging a problem can take a while to be accepted and acted upon. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? Sadly, this isn’t always true. The only way to move forward is to accept that there will always be something worth doing better.
Some might say they don’t want their brand to be political. We hate to break it to you, but everything is political. By not acknowledging the problem, be it external or internal to your company, you are only saying that you don’t care enough about an issue for it to matter to you, and that’s as political as it can get.
Educate Yourself About Social Issues. There’s a myriad of issues out there that you can’t possibly be fully aware of. Given this, it’s best to start somewhere familiar. Ask yourself these questions:
- What’s a systemic or societal problem in your country that you can help out with?
- What global issues is the world currently facing?
Starting somewhere closer to home and then learning about bigger issues can help bring about a massive change in perspective. Not only will you learn the vast similarities (or differences) in culture, but it will open up your eyes to things that generally make you uncomfortable, and that’s the perfect place to start. There are a multitude of resources and communities online that can help you in your journey to understanding these issues, so don’t be afraid to ask (Google, or other people).
Be a Champion for Your Principles and Beliefs. Becoming aware about these issues and calling it a day will never make as much of an impact as actually speaking up. Advocate your principles and beliefs, anywhere from opening up a discussion on social issues during a team meeting, to sharing your thoughts about it on social media and listening to your followers’ responses, to having an open discussion with someone directly affected by these issues.
Actively engaging with others about an issue like this will help broaden your views and knowledge about a social issue, and give you a better understanding of the realities surrounding it. Strive to be a catalyst of change, not a brand that addresses ethical issues only when it’s convenient.
A great example of this transformation would be Nike, a brand that has become a catalyst for change in recent years. One of their most controversial campaigns was getting athlete Colin Kaepernick, who, at the time of Nike’s 30th Just Do It Campaign, was in a heated spotlight for kneeling during the national anthem in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Nike has also done internal changes by pledging equal opportunities for employees who are women and members of minority groups. The brand also funds grassroots initiatives like PeacePlayers, whose mission is to unite divided communities through sport. In light of the recent #BlackoutTuesday, Nike also created a video to raise awareness for Black Lives Matter.
Listen to Your Employees and Colleagues. We can’t stress this enough: change should come from within. In this case, we mean engaging with the people you converse and collaborate with every single day about these issues. Ask them:
- What are their thoughts on these issues?
- How do they see these issues being integrated into the brand DNA?
- What changes can be made to make the company better in terms of these issues, both in the short term and in the long term?
- What other issues do they think the company can act upon?
An example would be checking if you’ve been providing equal opportunities and benefits to employees who are part of minority groups, or looking out for any possible prejudices or unequal practices that might be happening on a daily basis. Moving your brand into a more sustainable direction comes in multiple forms. This can be applied in various company processes, from hiring, to manufacturing, to marketing, among others.
For example, if anyone feels like an outcast, there’s most likely an internal prejudice happening in the company, which can be fixed by implementing new ground rules. By making conscious changes in your internal processes, you get closer to an ethical brand culture; which, generally, gives an overall boost in both your team’s morale and brand credibility.
Your brand should embody your beliefs, starting from you and your team. By being “political,” you take out the problem of politics in your internal system. Sharon Chuter, founder of Uoma Beauty, started an Instagram page called Pull Up For Change, which challenges brands to be transparent about the number of Black and POC employees they have. Many brands have come forward and acknowledged areas of improvement in their diversity efforts.
Have A Meaningful Action Plan. Feeling strongly about certain issues won’t matter unless you take action. Try drafting out a short-term and long-term action plan. You can start anywhere from designing a more just hiring system, to donating to chosen causes, or to partnering up with an advocacy organization long-term. Get creative, but find meaning in it. Know that every step you take in acting on a cause is a step towards a bigger, more radical change. Even the smallest droplets can cause big ripples.
And remember, not speaking speaks volumes.