Can brands stay out of it?

What brands can do to stand up against divisive rhetoric following the US election

Last month, I moderated a panel for the Northern California chapter of the Business Marketing Association, and one of the panelists, Tom Stein, chairman and chief client officer of B2B agency Stein IAS, said something that stuck with me. I asked panelists, when it comes to moment marketing, whether brands should stay neutral and avoid tough social issues. Tom’s response: No way. “Brands need to take a stand.” Even B2B ones.

After the recent US presidential election, the comment rings even truer and is even more important. Brands can take a stand by focusing on inclusive messaging that appeals to the kinds of customers you have – and want to attract. Ditch the divisive rhetoric and spotlight the diversity of both your employees and your clients. You will be rewarded.

People are angry. What does this mean for brands?

The election was polarizing, and there are some realities we have to face: Hate crimes have surged in recent days. Demonstrations are exploding across the country. Influencers like activist and journalist Shaun King, who has been documenting via Twitter the hate crimes that have taken place since the election, have called for a boycott of brands based on their political connections.

https://twitter.com/ShaunKing/status/798220001538932736?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

One thing that this election has made crystal clear is that our nation is more diverse than ever before. Brands that embrace that now win new friends and nurture relationships with old ones. Our customers hail from all walks of life and have a multitude of different experiences – whether they live in NYC or Des Moines – and we have to reach them.

A close friend who was recently a part of an agency review board said it was a real concern that the mostly white, mostly male representatives of agencies competing for the company’s business weren’t diverse enough to connect with its customer base. The company ended up choosing the agency that looked the most like its employees and its customers.

So how do we let our audiences know where we stand?

One great way to signal that we don’t stand for divisive rhetoric and bigotry, as well as demonstrate our commitment to our customers, is to continue to call for more diversity and gender equality in our companies and in our industries. And not just call for it – because talk is cheap; we need to mean it and work hard toward making those goals a reality.

Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney netted the wrong kind of attention after he sent an email to employees suggesting that workers who supported Donald Trump were not welcome at the company. The message went viral, was a huge marketing fail and the fallout continues. We’re Americans, after all, and we rightfully chafe at the idea of being punished at our place of employment for our political views.

However, we can look to CEOs at tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, who all emphasized the diversity policies at their organizations after Trump was elected. In a blog post, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote:

“Over a third of our engineers have come from other countries – 157 countries, in fact. We have employees from every race, ethnic background and religion. If there’s a language spoken on the planet, there’s a good chance that it’s spoken by an employee at Microsoft. And we’re committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but the type of inclusive culture that will enable people to do their best work and pursue rewarding careers.”

Making public commitments to fostering diverse workforces is the very least we could do. We can go even further in our activism and emulate leaders like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

Last year he pulled his very popular trade show Dreamforce from the state of Indiana over its “religious freedom” law, which permitted discrimination against gay and transgender customers. After Indiana caved to pressure from multiple tech brands and modified the controversial law, Salesforce resumed business in Indiana and issued a thank-you video to the state.

This week, while speaking at the Code Enterprise conference in San Francisco, Benioff emphasized that diversity and inclusion were top issues in Silicon Valley and something that the Trump administration should promote.

Trust me when I say that your sincere efforts will be noticed by your customers. Making your missions public, demonstrating that not only are all kinds of voices welcome, but actively sought out, will only reflect positively on your brand.

Originally published at B2B Marketing on Nov. 17, 2016

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