Understanding and embracing your spheres of influence to facilitate change
For the past three months, we’ve watched the complete disruption of entire industries and a wholesale remaking of our daily lives, only to then settle into a new(ish) normal(ish) full of social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing. For the past three weeks, we’ve been bearing witness to a growing social justice movement – challenging all of our institutions to be better, do better, and act better. Brands are not immune to these demands for change, nor the challenges that come along with them. In fact, brands are a vital part of the conversation.
The truth is that change is happening at an unprecedented rate. Brands need to respond. Brands are part of this conversation.Juliet D’Ambrosio, Adrenaline’s Senior Director of Strategy
So important are brands to our ongoing dialogue, Ad Age is producing a running list of brand responses to racial injustice, op-eds about corporate positions on racism are a daily occurrence and strategies for how to thrive through a pandemic are front page on every business publication. While the issues facing brands may be front-and-center, how to respond to them is not as obvious. What we’re witnessing is a simultaneous call for brands to use their influence and a calling out when they do it wrong. But if you’re a brand, how can you be sure you’re doing it right? First, you try. Second, you try again.
Understand Your Brand
We’re watching brands like Facebook grapple with an increasingly influential advertising boycott as the company is called out for permitting incendiary speech on its platform. Facebook’s problems represent a larger societal shift toward accountability. In our current environment (and beyond) brands can no longer expect to take performative action – like donations – and have that alone be seen as enough. Even as Facebook reverses course, other brands are proactively moving toward change rather than just reacting to it. For example, Microsoft is committing to more than $750 million to diversifying its workforce, suppliers, and partners, announcing the change without fanfare on its blog.
The difference between these two technology brands is that one has built its brand from the core, doing the work necessary to understand what their brand stands for in good times and bad, today and tomorrow. Maybe more importantly, though, is that one brand is trying to live its values every day without having to be called out by its employees or consumers to do so. And another brand is trying to catch up and redefine (or define for the first time) what it stands for. Will there be missteps and awkwardness in doing so? Yes. Is that process necessary for brand-building in the future? Also, yes.
Finding your footing in an environment where actions are speaking louder than words requires no small amount of self-reflection and an openness to change. As a brand, that means that there will be discomfort in the process of trying to do the right thing. Just as our country grapples with individual roles and responsibility for social change, brands must look at their own place in facilitating that change. What’s required this moment is more than donations or social media posts, no matter how well-meaning. What consumers are looking for from brands is a response that’s authentic – it must come from the heart – and meaningful – it must leverage your influence for change.
Using Your Influence
It’s not surprising that consumers are holding brands’ feet to the fire, given that trust in brands is more critical than ever with “70 percent say trusting a brand is more important today than in the past – a shared belief among age groups, gender, and income,” according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer. But just because people trust brands more than other institutions, that doesn’t mean there isn’t cynicism when it comes to gauging brand behaviors. Edelman outlines a trusting relationship, saying, “People today grant their trust based on two distinct attributes: competence (delivering on promises) and ethical behavior (doing the right thing and working to improve society).”
While relative and nuanced, doing the right thing relies heavily on aligning your values with the customers you serve and leveraging your sphere of influence. A sphere of influence is an area in which a brand has an outsize footprint and impact. The bigger the brand, the larger the industry, and the more prominent in the market share: the bigger the sphere. Individuals within companies also have their own spheres of influence both inside and outside their company and across their respective industries. So, when black executives share their experiences of racism, they are leveraging both their corporate affiliation and their individual influence, pushing their impact outward in ripples.
Leveraging your sphere of influence means you understand your own power as a brand and you use it responsibly to make a change – both internally and externally. It’s Disney looking at its own influence on children to end racist presentations. It’s JP Morgan Chase saying they will take action against customers who racially abuse their staff by unceremoniously dropping them. It’s Coca-Cola pausing all social advertising spending for the next 30 days to reassess their advertising policies to assure they are aligned with the company’s values. Leveraging your sphere of influence helps shape advocacy and builds on your core, strengthening your foundation for the future. It’s now and it’s non-negotiable.
For financial institutions needing advice and expertise about responding to this moment of challenge and change, contact Adrenaline’s brand, advertising, and communication experts at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (678) 412-6903.
Header Credit: Snapshot taken from a recent Sprite Ad