Model Empathy Is About The World Not The Market
As marketers, we know that brands have a unique responsibility in the culture in which they exist because they actively participate. and as such have the power to set the tone, set the example and inspire everyone to do better.
A parallel to the movement for racial injustice is the environmental injustice that we saw decades ago. Awareness of pollution and global warming prompted almost every brand to adopt standards, practices, and certifications to protect the environment and natural resources. These brands, in turn, have helped raise consumer awareness and expectations of the environmental impact of the products they buy. Some, without exception, opted for the shortcut to a green attitude and were identified as “green washing machines” – brands that went through the applications or made false or excessive claims to sustainability in order to take part in the competition. Such brands only took the environmental trend into account, but did not really put it into practice. Brands like Interface Flooring, on the other hand, recognized early on how important it is to be a truly sustainable manufacturer, have made real changes to their policies and practices, and have shown the world that it is not just “green” and respect for the planet shows the right thing, but also a very profitable thing.
I mention the environmental movement because it has been successful beyond what laws and regulations could achieve on their own. This is because the market, driven by brands committed to change, made the difference.
Empathy is an act
I believe that treating people with respect and understanding is as important as treating the environment with respect and understanding. It's just right – whether you buy your products or not. This is how each of us, regardless of race, wants to be treated. This is called empathy. How should brands react sensitively in this crisis? Or should they answer at all?
First, a reminder that empathy is the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing within their frame of reference, that is, the ability to put themselves in another person's position. Active empathy is important in a business context. That means empathy becomes clear through business measures.
NASCAR responded with unexpected speed and audacity by banning the Confederate flags from its events and venues. This was a deep example of the brand's empathy, which was shown not towards its most passionate supporters, but towards society as a whole. NASCAR has brought its future on line by potentially alienating tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of ticket buyers and TV viewers by doing the right thing. The brand hopes that it can now attract a whole new fan base with money. We will see. But just like the interface example, this is a real change, and through its actions it shows the world that brands have the power to set the tone, deliver the example and inspire everyone to do better.
NIKE also made a brave decision by using Colin Kaepernick in 2018 as part of his ongoing "Just Do It" campaign, despite the fierce controversy surrounding his kneeling protest during the national anthem at football matches. Shunned by the NFL, it now appears that NIKE's decision has been confirmed, with the recent reversal of the NFL's stance on Kaepernick and the message his knees conveyed.
Quaker Foods North America, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, has withdrawn the 130-year-old “Aunt Jemima” label after the murder of George Floyd because the brand identity of its product was based on a racist stereotype. Kristin Kroepfl, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, explains: "We also need to take a close look at our brand portfolio and make sure that they reflect our values and meet our consumers' expectations." It's rare for a company to feel the need 130 years ago Discarding brand value, and even rarer is his serious determination to conduct further research. This is an expression of brand empathy in action, albeit for a very long time. Here we remind you that brands are never finished and a thorough assessment of the role of a brand in a broader context must be daily practice.
Brands have to be the change the world wants to see
In these examples, NASCAR, NIKE, and Quaker Foods made decisions that pose a high risk to their brands' popularity and sales. Not every brand will be so visible or put in the national spotlight to find an answer to racial relationships or social problems. But these brands have. Critics do not call this a "virtue sign" because they have real economic effects.
As a marketer, it is up to each of us to do what Kristin Kroepfl from Quaker Foods does: we need to look closely and take action.
We have responsibility. We have to do what is right. And we need brand empathy for the world around us, not just for our market.
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