By: Jonah Boyd
Brands are involved in every aspect of our daily life. From the clothes we decided to wear to the food we choose to consume, the image consumers have of brands plays a huge role in whether or not they decide to support the brand. For many consumers, their top priority is making sure the brand they support abides by ethical principles. But, what exactly makes an ethical brand, and how can you ensure that your brand’s image is ethical?
For starters, let’s define what ethics means in terms of brand identity. An ethical brand is transparent in their work, they are fair to their employees and honest in the messages they convey to their publics. Many consumers also want ethical brands to have developed a strong voice around important topics such as racial inequality, women’s rights and public health.
So, what does this all mean for your brand? Below I’ll outline a few ways brands can use their influence ethically and positively to start and further important conversations.
- Be authentic
Authenticity is the most important thing when considering how to use your brand’s influence. If you decide to comment on a trending issue you first need to sit down and evaluate how your brand as a whole aligns with the issue you decide to comment on. If your brand is a well-known sports team in the amateur or professional sector, for example, it would make sense to issue a statement on the passing of a beloved sports figure. However, if you represent a brand that exists within the food and beverage industry and you try to make a witty post about a beloved sports figure you may face some backlash. It can feel tempting to comment on every single issue that is happening in the world, but some of the most strategic ways to use your brand’s influence is to know when to talk and when to simply listen.
- Understand the consequences
This next step is critical for all brands to pay attention to. When you’re drafting a statement on any sort of hot topic issue you need to really think about the worst possible outcome of your comments. A few important questions to ask yourself might be: Are we qualified to talk about this? Does this statement align with our past actions? Can this statement be taken in the wrong way? What might be the worst reaction to this statement? Is this urgent to post? How might someone with different perspectives than mine view this statement? Is this a genuine statement or are we doing this just for show? With these questions at the forefront of your mind, you can make a better more informed decision when speaking on behalf of your brand.
- Take Responsibility
Nobody is perfect and that includes brands. There will come a time when the brand you represent makes a mistake, says the wrong thing or otherwise proves their imperfection. The truth is no one expects you as a brand to be perfect 100% of the time. It would be ideal, certainly. It would fill us with a warm and happy feeling if the brands we looked up to always made the right decisions and had no faults. But, that is not the reality of the world we live in. If you find yourself amid a nightmare emergency because of a mistake your brand made the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Relax. Everyone makes mistakes and reacting immediately out of guilt or shame won’t be as effective, won’t seem as genuine and will ultimately backfire. Take time to reflect on why your brand is facing backlash and then do a bit of research and educate yourself and others within your brand on why the backlash is happening. If we’re able to understand one another better we can build more effective brands and tell more compelling stories. When you’ve done this initial work take the time to craft a powerful and honest apology. Outline why what you did was hurtful, state the steps your brand is taking to change and really own up to your missteps. Most importantly, do not try to minimize your mistake. By using phrases like, “we did not intend,” “we had good intentions,” or “we’re disappointed in how our message was received,” you’re showing consumers that you as a brand are not able to own up to your mistakes. Be very careful when choosing the wording for an apology and prioritize owning up to your mistake rather than saving face. No one is perfect, certainly not brands, but through every trial we face we learn invaluable things about ourselves and those around us if we accept the mistake for what it was.