Today, brands do more than simply stand behind the quality of their product or service. Millennials might want to know what their brands believe in, but Gen Z demands it. Young consumers don’t want to wear a shirt, buy cosmetics, or get coffee from entities that support concepts they don’t believe in. 

Consumerism has often been the only halfway decent means for younger generations to participate in Capitalism. This isn't new, but it is happening with more fervor.

What does this mean for our future? Does every brand need to decide if it’s liberal or conservative? Did my favorite frozen yogurt company fail to adopt the right stance on Occupy Wall Street? Must consumers choose between a left-wing or a right-wing hamburger joint? I hope not, but specific brands absolutely need to show support for issues that should transcend politics - like Black Lives Matter.

Unfortunately, many of these companies that post a black box will continue to throw away resumes that feature different-sounding names. 

This begs the question - why are so many companies becoming increasingly active in cultural conversations? Is it just lip service?

I always operate under this mindset - ‘assume positive intent’. Maybe this is a global realization that businesses (i.e. - groups of people with a common mission) are in the best position to make a better world. These companies aren’t inherently political - but lives are on the line so maybe they think "to hell with politics!"

When people work together, they can change the things they dislike in this world without having to wait for the government to do it for them. While I do believe that many of these companies and people are acting in a benevolent way, there’s another reason at hand.

Think about it like this. As social media becomes increasingly divided, political, and even downright militant, what happens when you advertise your DTC product on Facebook during a day of particularly hostile arguments?

Will the consumer remember your ad or will they forever associate your product with the controversial messages that you’re sandwiched between? If everyone on social media is debating whether or not America should go to war, why on Earth would you advertise your product on Facebook if it could be placed in between such incendiary posts? 

Companies that sell via social media risk association with the messages above and below their advertisement.

This reason simply explains why more brands are beginning to speak out. In the eyes of some, silence represents complicity. Companies can control their message - but they can’t control Facebook’s placement of that ad or the speech of a potential customer’s crazy friend from high school.

If your skin cream advertisement is sandwiched between a COVID-19 conspiracy theory post and a 5G conspiracy theory post, then we risk potential customers associating a negative image with your brand. A tone deaf, status-quo marketing approach can cause damage to the DTC businesses that financially depend on social media ads (i.e. - every single DTC business). 

But more importantly - how can we even tell if a company is serious about their social media speech? Easy. Look at the brand's actions, not their words. A company certainly doesn't have to restructure its business model to donate time, resources, or professional skills to a movement they support.

It’s great that my bank supports Pride Month - but real brand values represent what they actually DO about it. For example - did said bank make it clear they would protect LGBTQ employees in the workplace before this recent Supreme Court ruling?

If McDonalds truly believes that Black lives matter (as they've posted), then why have they done nothing to help the 75% of Black female McDonald's employees who will experience sexual harassment during their time at work?

If a company’s brand values are more than just words, they extend beyond public political statements to internal truths reflected in their day-to-day operations. Plenty of unsuccessful companies create brand values. But then they never look at them again. Why define your values at all? That's not value, that's vanity.

If a business truly values inclusion and equality, this stance will be expressed via the salaries they pay a black female employee versus a white male employee with the same job. Not some black box.

It takes effort - both to define the values and to live them. At Annecy, part of our job is to help startups turn flowery language into tangible action.

Brand values explain what a particular company wishes to add to our world. When done right and with real intention, this makes a brand. They can stand up for something they believe helps the world - and interestingly enough, most make more money while doing so. People believe in brands that walk their talk. This is why brand values extend beyond words on a screen.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020