Whether it’s sustainability, Black Lives Matter or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, I can’t be the only person who raises an eyebrow every time a brand publicly aligns itself with a serious issue, only to flip-flop onto something new within a couple of weeks without demonstrating any level of commitment beyond a five-second Instagram post and a tokenistic tweet.
I understand the inclination to speak up. The aforementioned matters are all of urgent importance, and we also live in a world where brands are quickly called out if they fail to use their platforms for the greater good. But unless you’re willing to demonstrate your long-term commitment to a cause, I have to wonder what “good” you’re actually achieving. Sure, you might look like you’re socially aware for a fleeting moment, but you also run the risk of commodifying a meaningful issue for your brand’s own gain.
In other words, if you’re only interested in the optics, then you’re probably damned whatever you do.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t speak up about anything at all: I strongly believe brands of all sizes have the means to create positive change. But surely it’s better to identify an issue that truly aligns with your values and use the power of your platform to create impact in that area over the long-term than to voice your support for absolutely everything — and achieve nothing in the process.
I know it’s not easy. It takes a particularly brave company to say: “this isn’t just what we stand for, it’s something we’re really going to commit to, whatever happens.” Most big businesses are beholden to shareholders, and it’s especially difficult to think long-term when there are end of year reports to contend with. After all, if sales are down for one reason or another, the pressure is on to take a fresh approach in the next quarter.
But the truth is, taking a slower, more intentional approach will always pay off eventually — in terms of profit as well as purpose.
Customers can tell commitment from a mile away, and it rarely starts with a social media post. Instead, it just takes two simple questions: what can we do better in order to achieve this? And, are we willing to do that for the next 30 years?
What this looks like is up to you. Maybe it means donating one percent of your profits to a certain charity, or publishing every stage of your supply chain, even if it exposes the things you could improve. Perhaps you need to examine your hiring history, and make a conscious effort to not only recruit a staff that represents the global majority, but to develop new initiatives to encourage and support young people of colour in entering your industry. At HarrimanSteel, we’ve been working to help brands identify areas where they’d like to make a positive impact, and develop the long-term plans they need to achieve it — and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that change takes time, and that nobody gets it right on the first go.
But that shouldn’t dissuade us from trying.
If a brand knows what its North Star looks like, it can be consistent with its messaging. Customers will know what your brand stands for and what they can expect, which builds the kind of loyalty that you can pass down the generations. You can evolve and you can grow, but you’ll always be moving in the same direction.
In a way, it’s a lot like exercise: if you want to see real progress, aesthetically or athletically, the one thing you need is regularity. Going all in on a new workout regime in summer — only to let it fizzle out in the colder months — isn’t going to get you anywhere.
As for the pressure to post something on Instagram the next time there’s a crisis you know nothing about? Honestly, I urge you to take a beat and consider whether or not you’re adding anything to the conversation first: if you were at a dinner party and the same topic came up, chances are you’d let those with something valuable contribute while you absorbed their expertise. Quietly listening is a much more positive action than interrupting every two seconds to say you agree.
And if, one day, the events taking place do happen to link to your brand’s established expertise, then you’ll probably have something useful to say — and you’ll find a whole new audience eager to learn.
Featured image: Ehimetalor Akhere / Unpslash