How brands can live out their values and respond to the new normal

Yessenia Morales / July 2020

Yessenia Morales is VP, global partnerships at Kinesso/IPG and co-chair of IPG’s Women’s Leadership Network. Here she shares how brands can begin to make a meaningful difference through action grounded in the values they espouse, promote, and stand behind.

We live in unprecedented times. And with all that’s already happened across the globe in 2020, it’s easy to forget that we’re only halfway through the year. But one thing has remained constant and is more true today than ever: the need for advertisers to deliver actionable change.

Brands can no longer use traditional media as vehicles to simply exist in the marketplace. Instead, brands must evolve to live out and act on their values within these platforms.

Brands must consider, absorb, and reflect the real-world experiences and events that surround them.

What this means is simple: Brands must consider, absorb, and reflect the real-world experiences and events that surround them. This requires brands to continuously evolve and respond to the new normal through action grounded in the values that they espouse, promote, and stand behind.

Where can brands even begin?

Step 1: Project ‘clean house’

Most global brands have a multitude of ad and marketing campaigns that they recycle year after year. But that’s not the height of effective advertising and marketing anymore. Instead, brands need to evaluate what their portfolio of offerings represents: Is it attuned to what’s happening globally? Does it reinforce or conflict with our brand values?

This can’t be an annual, quarterly, or even monthly exercise. It should be a daily effort to discover opportunities for actionable change to pivot how a brand goes to market. Here are some quick tips and resources for how brands can make it happen.

Daily actions to discover opportunities for change

4 illustrated icons with captions, Evaluate, Eliminate, Listen, and Say, that illustrate the 4 bullet points below.
  • Continuously evaluate brand imagery, collateral, communications and core objectives, internally and externally.
  • Eliminate content that doesn’t reflect well on your brand or that’s become outdated due to external events. (Yes, even if you’ve had that brand mark for a really long time).
  • Listen to feedback from your consumers and employees. Digital media provides a lot of raw, instant feedback as a timely indicator of how your brand is perceived. These insights are only a scroll or a swipe away.
  • Say what you mean. Act on what you say. Any brand can claim to live its values, but how are you putting that into action? Using the current movement for racial justice as an example, the ask is simple: Afford people the same treatment and opportunities regardless of race. As a woman of color myself, I can’t emphasize enough how truly critical and important it is for us all to act to make this a reality.

Step 2: Use your brand resources

We live in a data-driven world. Use these resources not only to identify who may purchase your next product or offering, but to measure your brands’ progression on making actionable change. Are you maintaining a balance of representative talent across your organization and within leadership roles? Are you closing the pay gap across genders, race, and abilities? Are your products or offerings targeting consumers appropriately?

Brands should use data to tailor experiences that deliver your offering to the appropriate audiences.

I’m proud to say IPG has made tremendous strides in moving beyond the traditional age/sex/gender targeting model by no longer using it, as an organization. Instead, we offer brands an addressable audience strategy that prioritizes effective media and creative campaigns. There’s always still room to grow, but I take pride in this example of how we’ve implemented actionable change.

According to an article in Women’s Wear Daily, brands who supplied educational or financial resources in response to the Black Lives Matter movement saw tremendous increases of engagement with consumers who were sharing and promoting their content. This shift shows how “viva voce,” or word-of-mouth, marketing can be as simple as a brand taking a stance on a topic that’s important to their consumers.

And while it’s great for brands to take a stance, the work doesn’t end there.

Step 3: Create change

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. In recent weeks, many of us have experienced a multitude of emotions. Moments of pain, hurt, anger, fear, and frustration have brought to the forefront topics and discussions that for too long have been compartmentalized, brushed aside, or avoided altogether.

Now is the time to have honest conversations within our organizations.

Now is our time to change this dynamic. Now is the time to have honest conversations within our organizations, with our employees, with our consumers, with our politicians, and with anyone who is committed to creating an inclusive environment and society for everyone.

Educate yourself. The racial divide in our world is real. As an industry, we must break down the silos that our practices have helped uphold and pave the way for future generations to flourish. Here are a few educational tips all organizations and brands can take advantage of.

  • Continue to be teachable. While it’s hard to break old habits, you must be adaptable to change and evolution.
  • Vigilantly monitor yourself. This holds true at an individual, brand, and organizational level. Your actions as a brand and organization will essentially show others your “true colors.”
  • Learn the history. There is a slew of materials to read online to help you understand why so many people of color are frustrated to the breaking point. My favorites include “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, and “How to Be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi.

Aspire to allyship. Being an ally isn’t as simple as announcing you are one; it’s a trusted role that has to be earned from groups you are supporting. And remember: You never “arrive” as an ally or advocate; allyship requires ongoing listening, education, and meaningful practice.

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