From the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, to #BlackLivesMatter, to saying goodbye to Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima, social activism is the latest must-have for brands.
But should you join in? And if so, how can you do so without seeming cynical, especially if this is your first time dipping your toes into the social justice water?
Brand activism is a significant change in mission alignment with social issues, not just a short-term tactical move. This shift must be addressed mindfully and with longevity in mind.
Crucially, by performing this shift into activism correctly, we as marketers might be able to tip the scales of society and achieve change through these tumultuous times.
Most of our planning energy occurs at the moment of maximum ignorance: we spend so much energy creating strategic documents assuming nothing will change for long periods of time, which as 2020 has shown is a less than ideal way of thinking.
The agile mindset and its framework offers an alternative way: meaningful brand activism with an agile mindset will let us make lasting connections with causes that will resonate with both our brand image and our customers.
Strategy is Key for Agile Marketers
Agile marketing can be proactive as well as reactive. Once, I read an article that claimed to be about agile marketing that mused, “Can you plan to be agile? Isn’t that cheating?” There’s an oddly resilient myth that agility has more to do with being able to react in real time, as opposed to plan or strategy.
That’s not only incorrect, but it’s also a terrible idea for marketers expected to steer the ship of brand health over the long term. The important takeaway is that strategy matters- even when you’re responding to sudden change.
Even in brand activism, the most important thing is to know- really, actually know- your brand. Then you’ll be able to see how your brand aligns with cultural moments. If you can find a strong reason for your brand to join the conversation, then it’s time to examine the possible variations from your existing messaging. How much can you change without going backwards in your brand identity?
Once you’ve found a happy medium for degree of change, respond as close to real time as possible. Really commit to the idea of a minimum viable campaign: the smallest amount of work that still achieves goals, and get it in front of your audience. Then, over time, expand it and reiterate.
Strike a Balance between Agility and Stability
As you figure out what your desirable degree of change is, be mindful that work undone is a form of waste. There’s a lot of value in finishing work already started before pivoting to something new.
Find ways to make small, piecemeal adjustments to marketing plans, rather than jumping into many simultaneous new initiatives.
Your marketing work should already have the foundation of strong organizational values; there should be clear moments of intersection between cultural movements and your current marketing. Rapid response is not unimportant, but it won’t help over time if your marketing strategy is nothing but a series of pivots and reactions.
Learn, Err, Repeat and Improve
If you start with your organization’s core values and go forward with a minimum viable campaign, you can count on a feedback loop with your audience and customers to tweak and finesse your messaging over time.
As your new messaging starts to hit your audience, be attentive to reactions and outcomes– see what works and what doesn’t. Take the feedback and improve as you go.
This mindset of continual iterations can be hugely powerful, but it only works if we start from the minimum viable starting point. When we put it all out there immediately, it’s much more difficult to adjust for long term success.
Perform Seven Generation Thinking
Finally, understand that brand activism isn’t just a commitment for a quarter and then left behind. If social justice matters to your organization, the shift to activism must be long lasting and continuous.
Make the commitment real, and then take time to consider what this wholesale adjustment will have in terms of market implications.
Will this commitment mean rethinking advertising channels and leaving those not socially aligned behind? Are there parts of your messaging that could use an update? How can you and your brand’s platform support ongoing change?Truly consider and listen to the reactions you receive. Too often we stop considering our own humanity when we’re in marketing mode, but this intentionality on the individual level should be translated to our brand marketing efforts.
Iterate towards a Meaningful Intersection
If you haven’t already, take the time to really consider your organizational and brand value, and how they fit with the current social justice movements.
Look for an authentic intersection, and begin a steady, iterative march toward it. Deliver valuable marketing collateral as often as possible, then listen to feedback and adjust as needed.
Once you arrive at the intersection between your brand and activism, sit down and stay a while.
Explore the impact you can have through long term strategic change, not just one time opportunistic tactics. This position, not just a one-day use of a particular hashtag, is where brands and their marketers can be part of the solution.
This guest post was authored by Andrea Fryrear
Andrea Fryrear is co-author of the ICAgile Certified Professional in Agile Marketing curriculum, author of two books on marketing agility, and an internationally sought-after speaker and trainer. She holds numerous Agile certifications, including Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner (A-CSPO), ICAgile Certified Instructor, Certified Professional in Agile Marketing (ICP-MKG), Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Agile Leader (CAL-1), Certified [email protected] Practitioner, and Certified Professional in Agile Coaching (ICP-ACC). When not on a plane or at a keyboard, she can be found in the mountains of her adopted home in Boulder, Colorado.