Rise & Shine: Brand Activism is the New Norm

Today, a company’s purpose is table stakes – values lead, actions define.  Gone are the days of companies limiting themselves to cautiously phrased corporate statements on safe, noncontroversial social issues.  They’re now raising their voices on prominent sociopolitical issues of the day and taking a stand on the values they hold sacrosanct. Expect this to be the new normal.

Two of the latest companies to put their values into action, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods – are both raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21 and removing access to assault rifles and high-capacity magazines after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  These corporate actions come on the heels of many companies, including car rental brands and airlines, an insurance giant and a major bank cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).  All while lawmakers spin over gun control.

How did we get here?  The surge of corporate action we’ve seen since the new administration took office has been years in the making – from 27 major companies standing up to marriage equality in 2013, to 15 companies taking a bold stand against Trump’s immigration ban last year, to U.S. companies staying strong on climate action despite the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement.  With the rise of social media, citizen journalism, and at-your-fingertips publishing tools, companies have become far more participatory in sociopolitical issues that impact our daily lives and personal values.

The smart ones aren’t just taking a stand.  They are shining a spotlight on injustice.  They are empowering their employees and customers to do more than care.  They are moving their audiences to take action that will lead to a more inclusive, safe, and selfless world.  It’s the shift that is changing what it means to be a responsible business and what will ultimately change our world – brand action to human action.

If you’re a company or brand today, you can’t afford to only ask ‘what your purpose is in the world.’ You must also define what you value in society and what you are willing to do about it.

A traditional purpose-led company expects customers to be motivated by a corporate commitment to philanthropy and to feel good about purchase decisions simply because it supports sustainable business practices. This approach has lost its originality.  This isn’t to say philanthropy and sustainability are no longer important – they are as critical as ever.  But, stopping there will no longer be enough.

Leading with values and delivering on purpose with actions is the next step for companies looking to connect more emotionally and morally with their employees and customers.  Companies must connect so deeply to the values they share with them that they are willing to see it and act on it.


Photo by Lorie Shaull