Corporate Activism Gives Brands A Voice For Change
The Trump administration has ushered in a new era of corporate activism, inspiring leadership among America’s CEOs on unexpected issues. Previously, most companies testified in Congress or participated in political campaigns only when issues affected their bottom line. But in recent years, a growing number of high-profile corporations like Starbucks and Apple have stepped into the fray on social justice and environmental issues.
In February, for the first time in our country’s history, 100 CEOs filed an amicus brief against an executive order, insisting that Trump’s travel ban was a “significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability that have governed the immigration system of the United States for more than fifty years — and the Order inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth as a result.”
Corporate activism has even attempted to inspire change in local and state politics. In early 2017, the Outdoor Industry Association followed through on repeated threats to move their convention out of Utah, citing the state’s failure to take action on protecting public lands and worsening air quality. After twenty or more years of bringing millions of dollars to the Beehive State, retailers like REI and Patagonia helped drive the convention to Denver, causing massive public outcry and a major PR disaster for Utah’s Governor Hebert.
As corporations continue to be vocal on important issues like immigration and climate change, boycotting brands has also become a powerful activism tool. We connected with Anthony Miller, CEO of millermedia7, to discuss what’s driving corporate activism and why it’s necessary for brands to craft a voice that speaks out.
Your media company focuses on helping brands find their voice and manifesting that in an online presence. What do you think is the biggest mistake companies make when they are first developing their brand?
What I have noticed in the past is that brands who have never established a consistent voice throughout their org. This is very critical. If you don’t establish a true brand voice across all of your brands then you’re already working from a deficit. Also, don’t be afraid to be bold in your brand voice. Isn’t there some saying that is “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for everything”
So, go out and start crafting your brand voice from the inside out.
Corporate activism seems to have exploded recently, with companies like Apple and Facebook taking a stand on immigration and others using their leverage to get customers engaged on issues like conservation or climate change. What do you think about brands that craft activism campaigns? Is it a savvy move or a slippery slope?
I am proud to see larger brands come and take a stand against policy and practices that in my opinion are un-American. Our country is strong because of the vast diversity, not in spite of it. I think discussion is pivotal for a brand, even if it may be controversial. Discussion is a great way to create content for your brand, and also connect and move minds and hearts of customers.
For instance, while Merck may not have a fantastic brand reputation, their CEO, Kenneth Frazier, certainly built quite a bit of capital when he took a stand and resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council.
Are there big issues out there that you think have the potential to drastically alter our future that brands and companies should be more involved in? What advice do you have for companies who want to get engaged in activism but don’t know where to start?
The big issues that I think are festering within the current administration are immigration, divisive unapologetic lying. Outside of the admin there are countless content producers publishing drastic unhinged views of America that are just plain false. This is dangerous and a total eclipse of the facts. When the dissenters win hearts and minds of people it becomes drastically difficult for brands to nurture their offerings. Because most brands will have a worldview steeped in facts. When that is broken, so will the connection to the people. Brands need to be leaders and follow a moral compass and be willing and happy to educate and learn and spurn positive discussion with their public.
A great example of this is Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, who offered free housing to people affected by the Trump travel ban.
What do you see as the future of corporate activism? Is it going to be increasingly important for companies to get involved or is this just another marketing strategy that’ll become ineffective in a few years?
I touched a little on this in the last question, but corporate activism should be inclusive, moral, and altruistic. I believe it is vital for brands to get in involved in activism to a certain degree. Touch on these finer points with all communication, but I would believe it only enters the brands arena about maybe 15–20% of the time. With more and more conflict and discussion that is prevalent in the news I see this as opportunity for brands to use their voice and I would encourage them to do so.
What are you passionate about at millermedia7?
Here at millermedia7, we’re passionate about building digital products that help people and build connections. We want to make life easier for people, so that they can spend time on things that matter. We’re interested in IoT, VR | AR, UX, and building content that lasts, and is interesting.
Find your voice and learn more about branding, digital solutions, and virtual reality at millermedia7.