20 questions for activist brands

20 questions for activist brands

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As more brands seek to engage in what Denise Yohn has referred to as the “cultural conversations” of today, they encounter reactions ranging from strong endorsement to cynicism about their motives. Starbucks, for example, hit turbulence with its Race Together campaign. (There’s an excellent analysis of why here.) Levis on the other hand seems to have had an easier ride with its Water<Less campaign. Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This campaign was hailed by many as honest, genuine and utterly in keeping with their beliefs.

As Prof Americus Reed points out in the article, the fundamental difficulty that Starbucks faced was intention vs execution. It’s all very well to have to a good corporate heart, but steering a path through public scepticism is no easy task and doing so in a way that is straight-forward to implement and that fits into consumers’ busy lives has its challenges.

Purpose brands vs activist brands

Inevitably, with the decline in trust in business following the Global Financial Crisis, companies have had to work harder than ever to convince consumers and the media that their motives are genuine.

Clouding the issue are the brands claiming that they are doing good through their activities.

The sheer volume of businesses making these assertions has turned CSR into something of a brandwagon. There’s a lovely piece here by Henk Campher in which he categorises participants into categories ranging from Snake Oil to Activist. In so doing, he draws an interesting distinction between Purpose brands and Activist brands. Purpose brands, he says, want to make the world a better place; Activist brands want the same thing, but with more edge.

Putting in place a campaign that draws attention to a situation within a wider communal or global context requires deep planning that is well aligned to brand strategy, ties directly to proof elsewhere and extends well beyond the planned life of the campaign itself. Whether you’re a purpose brand looking to make a stance or an activist brand looking to achieve more change, here’s my checklist to make sure you achieve your aims as an “opinionated brand” and stay on the right side of consumers:

  1. Why should your brand want to save the world? (And how do you define the world for the purposes of your brand anyway?)
  2. What are you fighting, and how entrenched is it?
  3. Where’s the connection between what you aspire to achieve and what your brand does (and therefore, what mandate, if any, do you have?)
  4. What exactly do you wish to see happen?
  5. Who will join you in the bid to make it happen?
  6. Who will refuse to trust you – and why?
  7. What’s the likely reaction overall – and how prepared are you for that?
  8. What will you do if you don’t get that reaction?
  9. Do your current behaviours fit with what you’re looking to achieve?
  10. Does your history align with your intentions? What have you said/done in the past to prove you’re sincere?
  11. How are you going to make this happen? – through whom? With what? Over what period of time?
  12. What are you doing alongside this via your CSR or business strategies to complement your stance?
  13. What are you not doing via your CSR or business strategies that could lead people to believe you’re not sincere?
  14. What other brands are also advocating for change in this space?
  15. Why are your actions different – and therefore what part of the conversation can you own?
  16. How motivated are your consumers to see this change?
  17. Where are your people in all of this? What does your (new) purpose do for them that you haven’t been able to do before?
  18. Where’s this going? – how will your brand emerge stronger for pursuing this?
  19. Where’s the proof that you’ve made or will make a difference? (And will that proof stand up to scrutiny?)
  20. How and when will you judge success? What’s your end point? And then what will you do?

Photo of “Any Questions?”, taken by Matthias Ripp, sourced from Flickr


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