Written by Sydnie Brown
- 1) Review your company’s mission and vision
- 2) Research the policy, political group, or social activities you plan to support
- 3) Understand that more consumers prefer companies to act rather than to stay silent
- 4) Find ways in which your company can actually help
Over 5,000 refugees have crossed the English Channel to get to Britain this year with nothing but dinghies, life jackets, and hope. Because of restrictions on international travel due to COVID-19, these individuals are venturing to Britain for a 20-plus mile trip on eight-foot inflatable boats. So as an Ice Cream business founded in Vermont- would you go out of your way to publicly comment on Britain’s handling of the situation?
That’s exactly what Ben & Jerry’s decided to do.
There is a difference between corporate activism and corporate social responsibility, and Sean Greenwood, the company’s “Grand Poohbah” of public relations, does an excellent job demonstrating it. Corporate social responsibility is simply a self-regulation structure for businesses to be socially accountable. Corporate activism, however, is not concerned with cause marketing or appeasing stakeholders and focuses on the core beliefs of a brand by actively advocating for change on social or moral issues. Upon learning about the refugee crisis, Ben & Jerry’s Twitter account posted that “the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change, and torture,” pressuring Britain to rethink safer routes for migrants.
While some ice cream lovers vowed to never again purchase from Ben & Jerry’s, the company saw 95% positive feedback from the post. Greenwood addressed the decision by explaining that the company values authenticity and refusing to position these stances as marketing angles helps maintain their commitment to that value, “which is very important to [Ben & Jerry’s] fans.”
So how do companies like Ben & Jerry’s determine what they should take a stand on? Here are four tips for you.
1) Review your company’s mission and vision
Remember, corporate activism is not meant to affect your consumer base. What your company chooses to support should reflect the moral foundation in which it was built and not what might increase revenue.
Take, for example, State Street Global Advisors, the asset management division of the world’s third-largest asset manager State Street Corp. The corporation commissioned “Fearless Girl,” the statue of a child standing in front of the Wall Street Bull, but repeatedly voted against proposals that would force businesses to disclose inequalities in pay between men and women.
What your company chooses to take a stand on should mirror the actions it takes to uphold its mission and vision, so try not to publicize your efforts before reevaluating those values.
2) Research the policy, political group, or social activities you plan to support
As much as we would like to believe that all social action groups are pure in their intentions, some have ulterior motives.
In 2017 a fake social media campaign titled “Blacktivist” appeared to support efforts to improve racial injustice in the US, attracting a startling amount of attention. The group was linked to the Russian government and managed to make 360,000 likes more than the Black Lives Matter movement. Blacktivist had both a Facebook and Twitter account and utilized each social media platform to fuel tensions after the death of Freddie Gray, going as far as posting ads supporting Jill Stein and praising Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Not every group is who they appear to be, so make sure your company does its research.
3) Understand that more consumers prefer companies to act rather than to stay silent
As Greenwood put it, “Nobody said trying to operate an aspiring activist organization would be easy,” but that does not mean that your company will have to sacrifice customers to do it.
According to a 2018 Edelman Brand study, belief-driven buyers make up 59% of US markets, meaning consumers find that brands can do more to solve societal issues than the government. While it is true that nearly two-thirds of consumers will support or even boycott a brand solely based on their stance on a social or political issue, this should not be a deterrent from allowing your company to take a stand. The Harvard Business Review surveyed to see if political advocacy has the potential to change the minds of consumers and found that when a company was seen as conservative and less committed to social responsibility and community, the opinions of the sample towards the company dropped 33%.
Not everyone will agree with what your company takes a stand on, but most consumers will certainly respect your brand for it.
4) Find ways in which your company can actually help
It is easy to declare “black lives matter” or “gay marriage is marriage,” but consumers can tell when a company works to support the causes it believes in.
Find out what the organization needs, whether it includes spreading awareness on societal issues, signatures for a petition, or donations to fund marches and other activities.
It is not enough to simply donate money, rather businesses must put in the effort to assess where they can make real change and help nonprofits serve those in need. Check out our post about authentic social impact.