To truly understand your audience, you have to step outside of yourself, and look at the world through the eyes of others. Now more than ever, open-minded conversation on social justice topics is the remedy to conflict – and an opportunity for your brand to get real.
1. After Covid, social justice has perhaps been the second most relevant topic of 2020. Representation and inclusivity are once again at the fore.
2. We’ve seen this expressed in consumer behavior – social conscience guides our decision-making more and more. We’re more likely to trust and use brands whose values are similar to ours.
3. It’s important to truly understand what your brand’s values are, and then to make these known to your customers. This can enhance your brand’s perception, and attract new customers who resonate with your mindset.
4. Inclusivity equates to opportunity. Why wouldn’t you open your doors to as many people as possible, to broaden your base? Crowdsourcing as many diverse insights as possible can only help you understand the market better.
5. Listen, don’t dictate. Consider your market more specifically, and less generally. Create conversations, and learn from them.
6. Brands can do great good! Actively, and creatively, support the social justice causes you believe in. Give and thy shall receive.
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Speak Your Truth
The murder of George Floyd had a butterfly effect throughout the entire world, reminding us how dangerously close to boiling point our society constantly simmers. The reasons are vast and complex, but inequality is at the root of much of it. Brazen injustice compelled most of us to say something, to speak up. Collectively, we seemed to agree that silence wasn’t an option this time around.
Grappling with the exact right words to say in times of despair, will never be an easy thing to do. But “no comment” is a crummy response. Brands and businesses don’t exist in a parallel moral universe to us. In 2021, more and more consumers are going to assess the conscience of companies they support and align with brand values that match their own. So, it’s a good time to polish up the ol’ moral compass, and make sure it still points true north.
Something To Believe In
You probably have some kind of business strategy, and a marketing strategy in place – but do you have a brand values strategy? It’s absolutely worth taking the time to put into words what your brand really believes in, and prioritizes. This doesn’t have to be political in any way, but you’ll find that expressing your principles makes it much clearer which social justice causes align with your own world view. The more accurately you define your values, the more useful they’ll be to guide you.
One simple way to define values is to articulate your brand’s story. This can be done on a basic level by expressing four basic truths:
Your Truth: What is the unique product, service or company characteristic that gives your story its roots?
Audience Truth: A need or desire that you can meet or satisfy. This is where you really connect with what your audience requires from you.
Truth of the moment: Something big, important, possibly exciting in culture or your category that you can support or challenge.
Truth of your mission: Beyond profit, why are you doing what you’re doing?
Distilling this into a sentence or two sets up a good foundation of what your brand is all about – both in terms of what it offers, and what it believes in.
The Value of Values
Hashtag culture is a very easy and convenient way to show support for a cause. But beyond these expected gestures, brands that put more effort into making their specific values known (with actions to match) emerge as more authentic. There’s naturally hesitation to be vocal in case you alienate some potential leads – but it’s more likely to gain loyalty from like-minded customers, and those are the ones you really want. Nike’s famous Colin Kaepernik spot in 2018 was hugely controversial, and detractors predicted the brand’s downfall. A bunch of die-hards even burned their sneakers… but at the end of the day, Nike’s sales rose by 31% that year.
Taking risks is part of the small business journey, but a bet based on your own truth is perhaps the safest one you can make. Speak up in 2021. Don’t worry about a handful of haters. As Winston Churchill noted: “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Your brand values are valuable. They’ll help position you emotionally – which is the base from which most human decisions are made. But they’re more than an Instagram post in times of crisis. Values are the evidence of your everyday actions.
Ask For Directions
As we keep learning about the world and other people, our values also evolve to accommodate more perspectives. Conversation is the main driver for this flow of new ideas, and these are conversations worth starting as an everyday entrepreneur. If you have a few dozen, a couple hundred, or several thousand followers or customers, that’s an incredible base to draw diverse perspectives from. Something as simple as a ‘this/that’ poll already sets a conversation in motion – and takes a whole two minutes to create, and circulate to thousands.
Ask your audience questions regularly, and consider their responses with an open mind. If you’re genuine about wanting to learn, people will appreciate that. Use social media to start up conversations. This is the foundation of building an active community – engaged not only with your brand, but with each other. In the best- case scenario, your brand’s platform emerges as a space for like-minded people to connect and share experiences, and conversations develop organically.
Lean in with your own views on social justice issues, but be prepared to listen more than you talk. The comments thread can be a rich well of market research, if you ask the right questions. Never stop being curious about your customers.
Wisdom of the Crowd
A room filled with 100 different people, is like a room filled with 10 000 books. Put that thought to use when you consider your own amazing audience. Generating regular conversations online will draw out insights you’d never considered. Don’t just wait for these to magically appear – follow your followers. Let them lead you to the best solutions. Whether it’s deciding on a new flavor, a cause to support, or the topic for your next webinar, let the wisdom of the crowd decide.
This doesn’t only make data sense (if 81% of your followers suggest Black Cherry flavor, Lemon Zest is off the table), it demonstrates a rare humility that can boost your brand sentiment. Consumers are sick and tired of companies pretending to care as a marketing exercise, with tired, empty slogans tossed out in the most general sense (“In these uncertain times…”). Anybody who acted with authority in 2020 was definitely faking it.
In 2021, let’s normalize saying: “I’m not really sure how to feel about this… what do you think?” Valuing your customers should include valuing their views… ‘cos they almost certainly know some stuff you don’t.
Practice What You Preach
In case this all becomes lip service, a practical suggestion you can implement is to meaningfully get behind a cause you believe in. This could be a local charity or a global movement, and it doesn’t necessarily mean offering financial support. Perhaps you could donate your service or product in some way, or raise some money with a virtual auction for the same service or product. Even simply raising awareness by sharing some of their content, and possibly using this to create a conversation, is an easy starting point.
For people and brands alike, the service you offer to the world becomes part of your identity. Whatever you have to give, consider focusing it in a specific direction – something within your brand’s universe, but more importantly, something that aligns with your personal idea of making the world a better place. You might also find that an added dimension of purpose greatly enriches the daily work you do.
2. Adopt a cause, and partner meaningfully. Use your brand values as a map towards a specific area where you can make some difference. Whether it’s through money, time, content, or skills, work out what you can allocate on an ongoing basis.
3. Throw out some questions on social media, or a polling platform. Ask your audience the things you need to know to know them better. Be frank, open-minded, and informal – try and make it feel more like a casual conversation than a government questionnaire. Incentives always help, too.
Find all of these templates – and thousands more – in Over. Make them your own with customized colors, fonts, and graphics, and take your brand to the next level in 2021. This is the year it happens!