“Is it weird that we expect corporations to take positions on social issues as opposed to just selling us stuff?”
The host of one of my favorite podcasts posed that question on a recent episode. It’s an appropriate question given that June is a hot month in terms of opportunity for companies to highlight their advocacy.
For starters, it’s Pride month. Everyone from major corporations to small businesses roll out rainbow and pride themed products. A local donut shop down the street from me is advertising a special rainbow-decorated pack of mini donuts. The Target I frequent has a whole section dedicated to Pride apparel. It’s everywhere.
Then, there’s Juneteenth, on Monday, June 19, commencing the end of slavery; it’s been celebrated in Black communities since the late 1800s but gained more mainstream notoriety after Congress voted to make it a federal holiday in 2021.
June can and should be an exciting time for brands and their audiences. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the vibrant diversity of our country and recognize the historical context that led us to this place.
But when June ends - what next?
It brings me back to the question: “Is it weird that we expect corporations to take positions on social issues as opposed to just selling us stuff?”
During June, there seems to be a general consensus that no, it isn’t weird; in fact, it’s become expected. But ignoring this question the rest of the year can make your efforts during the month come across as hollow and disingenuous, which ultimately turns people off from your brand.
Deciding what t-shirts to sell or how to decorate donuts year round isn’t my speciality. I don’t have recommendations in that area. But I do have recommendations on how to craft your brand’s copy and content to reflect this era of the conscious consumer - a person who shops in a way they believe makes a positive social, environmental, or economic impact.
prioritize inclusive language.
Language is powerful. It has the ability to normalize the ideas or beliefs of a society. When you use terms that (knowingly or unknowingly) imply sexist, racist, ableist, or otherwise biased ideas, you can alienate your audience.
Some examples of inclusive language:
Using gender neutral pronouns
They/them vs. he/she
Firefighter vs. fireman
Using people-first phrases
Person experiencing homeless vs. a homeless person
Person with a disability vs. handicapped person
Not using phrases rooted in racism
Critics vs. “the peanut gallery”
Legacy vs. “grandfathering or grandfather clause”
Appropriate, modern descriptors for groups
The specific tribal name vs. American Indian
Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) vs. minorities
There are many areas of our language that are exclusionary and habitual. Many of my emails would begin with “hey guys” and my go-to is still sometimes to use a metaphor or an idiom that reflects only my culture and experience.
Using inclusive language is an on-going and evolving process; there’s always room for improvement.
acknowledge what’s happening in the world (and do something about it).
Your brand and your content doesn’t exist in a bubble. Your audience, clients, and customers are operating in a world where good and bad things happen. Marketing crafted in a vacuum will miss the mark time and time again.
Be prepared to be flexible to what’s going on in the world. Recognizing and honoring Juneteenth loses its meaning if your company remains silent in the face of present day injustice.
This is where authenticity comes into play; you can’t fake caring about humans and issues of social justice. Be humble, own up to past mistakes, and express a desire to grow.
Then - and perhaps most importantly - back up your words with action.
educate yourself and your team.
In today’s world, “well, I didn’t know” or “I didn’t mean for it to come across like that” is no longer an acceptable excuse.
It’s time to be proactive by making sure anyone who writes for your brand (externally or internally) is educated in the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This can often mean seeking help outside of your organization with a DEI firm like The Solution Consulting Co. They are a “network of equity warriors who teach organizations actionable strategies for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Asking for help and guidance in this area is a sign of strength; it shows that you’re committed to bettering yourself and your brand.
Today’s consumers are more conscious than ever before. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is. As a company, you need to be willing to do the same.