• Melissa Newton

The Controversial Conversation - Marketing in the Midst of Controversy




At a loss for words?⁠

We get it - finding the right words can be difficult on a regular day, but saying the right thing while marketing during a global pandemic and a controversial social climate is an entirely different thing. While burying your head in the sand and ignoring the situation is probably preferable, don’t do it.


Now, more than ever, it's important to show up. ‘Cause trust us - staying silent isn't the vibe.⁠


But to be clear, showing up without a plan is not a good look either. As business owners, we are often looked up to as leaders. Leaders in our communities, leaders within our companies, and leaders for the customers and clients we serve.


Now’s the time to be just that, a leader.


It’s time to take a step back from “business as usual” and have those hard conversations because the only way forward is to address what’s in front of you. Remember, marketing at its core is the building of long term relationships and creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers, clients, partners, and society at large.


Here are four tips to help your business navigate marketing in the midst of a controversial social crisis.


Say it Loud - What Do You Stand For?

Taking a stance on social issues is human nature. However, speaking up publicly can cause many business (especially small business) owners to fear offending their customers or being called out for their views. It’s ok to not always have the right words to say but as a business owner, you should always be clear on your core values and make sure that your message is aligned with your brand’s values.


This is why having a mission statement is critical. Think of it as your internal moral compass. It should speak to the heart and soul of your brand and be the first thing you refer to when making any public statements. However, be sure to keep your motives in check when speaking out because your audience will always be able to tell if your motives are genuine or just another “PR move”.


Who got it right: Ben & Jerry’s- The owners made a powerful show of solidarity with their statement, “We must dismantle white supremacy”. Talk about taking a stance. Not only did they make a bold - maybe polarizing - statement, they posted a blog detailing their four-step action plan to promote anti-racism in the US and reaffirm the brand’s commitment to speaking out against injustices faced by Black Americans and other people of color in America.


As if that wasn't enough, the ice cream moguls released “Justice Remix’d” last year to bring awareness to criminal justice reform. Not only did Ben & Jerry’s make a statement, but their intentions were also made abundantly clear as their actions aligned with their message.


Be Transparent

Let’s be real, in the world of social media, authenticity and transparency are basic requirements as customers become far more critical of the brands they endorse. It’s imperative to find ways to connect with your customers while showing your efforts are genuine.


Transparency is the process of being open, honest, and straightforward. In short, it's about earning your customer’s trust. To be transparent is to be aware of who you are as a brand and owning who you are then standing behind your practices. In many cases, this includes showing an openness to changing things that may no longer serve you or your customers.


Don't be afraid to call out and correct unfavorable actions or practices. Your customers will respect your honesty, and your transparency will go a long way in maintaining their trust. At the end of the day, customers want to give their business to companies they trust and brands they can stand behind.


Who got it right: Coca-Cola - CEO, James Quincey, admits that the company hasn’t done enough to promote African Americans in leadership positions. In a virtual town hall on the companies blog, he states, “Companies like ours must speak up as allies to the Black Lives Matter movement. Simply put, America hasn’t made enough progress, corporate America hasn’t made enough progress and nor has The Coca-Cola Company.”


Say what you want about Coca-Cola being genuine in their messaging, but in our opinion, they got it right by being transparent and admitting their lack of diversity on an executive level.



Read The Room- It’s Not Business As Usual

If you are doing business the way you did it two weeks ago, then you’re doing it wrong. Take stock in your customer’s needs and concerns because they should be an essential part of everything you do. If you are like many marketing DIYers, then you already have several social media posts scheduled out and ready to go. Or maybe you have a campaign or product launching in the near future.

Now’s the time to press pause, step back, and reevaluate things. Instead of jumping right into a marketing campaign, find a way to connect with your customers by offering a platform to share their own experiences or perhaps a guide to get them through this time of uncertainty. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask how you can help. Start the conversation. Your customers will always be open to doing business with you when you show up and serve them.


Who got it right: Starbucks- Starbucks took to social media and instead of promoting it’s new summer-inspired menu items, the coffee giant let their customers and the world know that they “will confront racism to create a more inclusive and just world.” They go on to say “We stand in solidarity with our Black partners (employees), customers, and communities. We will not be bystanders.”


They were responsive to comments and answered several questions regarding their position on prison labor, their contributions to Black Lives Matter, and their support of veterans. In the midst of these comments was a thoughtful response for criticism of a past situation where a barista had an uncomfortable conversation with a patron regarding race relations in America. Starbucks gets it.



Show, Don’t Just Tell

Speaking up or taking a stance is just step one. Words are great, but actions show true intent. Education is key here. Develop a strategy to educate your customers on the things that you are currently doing and things that you will do moving forward, then get to work.


Use social media as a way to connect with your customers and show them first hand how you are implementing the changes you broadcasted. When using social media to further your message, make sure you are ready to show, not just tell. Have your facts and stats together and don’t be afraid to show them.


Who got it right: Target - Of course they did. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the social crisis we are facing, Target has literally put its money where its mouth is. The mega-retailer has pledged $10M and ongoing resources for both rebuilding efforts and advancing social justice. They stated that the money will go towards nonprofits and other organizations like the National Urban League and the African American Leadership Forum.


Target is known for its stance on diversity and inclusion, and is clearly dedicated to “putting the needs of the people, communities, and the planet at the heart of how they work today to help build a better tomorrow.” This is exactly what aligning your mission with your message looks like.



Deciding to market during social unrest is never an easy decision to make, but we as business owners must show up for our customers consistently, Hopefully, these tips will help you share your message clearly and confidently.


If you want to learn more about how to connect with your audience through your message, check out our guide "Writing Copy that Connects", where we show you how to get the words right in just four simple steps!

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