innovative growth strategies

On Being a "Brand with Courage"​ or "Brand with Empathy"

Ever since the death of George Floyd, my LinkedIn stream has seen a flood of companies pledging to advance the cause of racial justice and "Black Lives Matter." This tsunami of voices will trigger a change for the good that leaves us all in a better place. Happily, this list of Brands with Empathy gets longer every day.

It wasn't always so. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee in support of #BlackLivesMatter in almost four years back, most brands held their silence. Except for one. Nike. It made the star quarterback the face of its “Just Do It” campaign with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” in a outsize billboard towering above Times Square. Trump supporters dutifully followed by burning their Nikes in bonfires around the country and promising to boycott the brand. Few other brands spoke up. Nike stood alone as a Brand with Courage.

So when should brands have Courage or Empathy or Indifference?

In the US, boards of public corporations have a fiduciary duty to maximize their shareholder’s wealth and not to take a stand on the myriad social injustices they encounter in the the countries they operate in around the world. Brands with Courage are risky business.

You become a Brand with Courage when the social issues align deeply with the core values of the company. Thus, having a clear credo of corporate values that don’t shift with the sands of time is important. On the other hand, you become a Brand with Empathy when your customers expect you to do the right thing or when your employees would no longer believe in your Brand. And when you do that, you do it with certain conviction. AbbVie, a Brand with Empathy, recently named a “Chief Equality Officer” to its senior ranks and committed $55 million to related social causes.

So, the next time, peaceful demonstrators are tear gassed by the military police or Uighur Muslims are interned in re-education camps, will yours be a Brand with Courage, Empathy or Indifference?

[Written by: Sandeep Dayal]