How to use your brand for advocacy
Controversy sells. That might be true for some, but it isn’t palatable for most businesses. In fact, the following is probably your nightmare scenario: At one time in the Kardashian brand Kourtney is railed as a curious choice for sustainability ambassador, Kim is roasted over greenwashed packaging, and Kendall becomes an out-of-touch symbol as she mollifies an angry crowd with Pepsi. I am not sure what Khloe is up to, but the numbers say she might be next.
These mistakes have a common theme you can overcome. They confuse marketing with advocacy. Marketing is a way of talking about what you are doing. If you post about environmental or social issues but don’t do anything about them, you will be accused of greenwashing, impact washing, brandwagoning, etc. And, you should. However, if you want to use your company as a tool for advocacy, there is a clear and rewarding path.
The first step is to determine what your team is passionate about. The UN established 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Starting with the SDGs will help your team put your local advocacy into a global context. Create a shortlist of the three to five goals that most energize you and your team.
The next step is to find people working on the issues your team identified. Get to know their passions and their challenges. Where are you uniquely positioned to help? Is it donating time, expertise, or money? How can your investment create the most leverage for them?
Take your learnings back to your team. Get their input on the issues. We identified zero hunger (SDG 2) as a passion. We talked with after-school programs in our area that fed kids. We realized that we could best help them through our branding expertise. Our work allows them to communicate themselves more clearly to their partners. We could have donated money, but our time ended up being an exponential investment. Ask yourself how your whole team can get involved.
You know what you are passionate about, what the need is, and how you are uniquely positioned to help. The next step is to codify your advocacy, so it isn’t a one-off. We created a program called Good Works. We now have a process to accept applicants working towards our SDG focal areas twice a year. It is part of our yearly rhythm.
Tell the world
Now, and only now, is the time to use your marketing outlets to talk about advocacy. Potential clients, potential co-workers, neighbors, and family will all want to know how you use your business for advocacy. Be specific. Tell the story of what you are doing and how others can get engaged with an issue you are passionate about. Post on social media, write a blog, an email newsletter. Sit on a panel. Tell the world.
We are facing unprecedented challenges as a culture. Use the tools at your disposal to create a healthier, more just community. And, then, tell everybody about it.