Is being an activist brand right for you? If so, how do you get started?

Social activism is the brand shift du jour, from Aunt Jemima to Facebook boycotts, but is it right for you and your brand? And if so, how do you do it without seeming opportunistic, particularly if this is new territory?

Brand activism begs a significant strategic shift and not just a small change in messaging. By doing brand activism right, you have the potential to really improve society by using your platform for good.

Agile work methods have long acknowledged that planning tends to come when you know least what is coming — strategy documents are written with the assumption that things will largely stay the same, but 2020 has proven that this is flawed thinking. Happily keeping an agile mindset and framework offers an alternative way of thinking about brand shifts and activism that set us up for long-lasting success.

It’s all about strategy

Agile marketing doesn’t mean being purely reactive or that you don’t need a plan. The bottom line is that strategy matters even when you’re responding to sudden change.

In order to even think about brand activism, you need to really, truly know your brand and how it aligns with cultural moments.

If now is the time for your brand to speak up, figure out how much you can shift from your messaging while still staying true to both your strategy and your extant work. Your guiding principle should be the idea of a minimum-viable campaign — the smallest amount of work that could still achieve your goals — and how to get it in front of your audience. From here you can move forward and expand.

Walk the line between “agile” and “stable”

As you suss out the degree of change feasible for you and your brand, remember that you shouldn’t backpedal on work you have or leave it undone — that’s wasteful of time and energy. It’s better to finish what you’ve started as opposed to pivot to an entirely new initiative. This holds especially true when considering brand activism. Find ways to tweak extant work, rather than fully pivoting to something new.

Your marketing work should always be informed by your organizational values, which will help in finding the intersections with cultural movements that your brand should participate in. A quick response is important but not at the expense of our long-term marketing strategy — it needs to be more than an endless series of pivots.

Stay mindful, stay open to learning

If you start from your organization’s core values and utilize a minimum-viable campaign, you can find valuable feedback in your customers and audience to continuously nuance your messaging over time.

Be mindful of reactions and outcomes and use that to help you figure out what works and what doesn’t.

This mindful, continuous iteration can be highly effective, but it only works if we begin from a minimum-viable starting point and not a fully formed campaign. It’s too hard to adjust a fully planned out campaign, whereas a smaller starting point leaves room for incredible, resilient variation.

Be future-minded

Brand activism is not a short-term campaign that can be abandoned. If social justice and lasting change are truly important to you, the shift must be permanent and a linchpin of your strategy.

Really commit and then consider the market implications of this shift. There might be channels to abandon, messaging to update, and actions to provide ongoing support, education, and lasting change with your platform.

Most importantly, you must be human in this shift. Be genuine and truly consider and listen to feedback you receive. It’s very easy to forget to do this when you have your marketer hat on, but the respectful intentionality as an individual should echo out to brand marketing, as well.

Andrea Fryrear is co-author of the ICAgile Certified Professional in Agile Marketing curriculum, author of two books on marketing agility, and an internationally sought-after speaker and trainer.

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