Are words of support no longer enough?

Source: "Congratulations to the Class of 2024" - WINGS Scholars, Air Jordan
Jun 08, 2020

On Friday, Nike committed $40 million over the next four years to support the black community in the U.S. In a separate statement, basketball legend Michael Jordan and the Nike-owned Jordan Brand announced they’ll be giving $100 million over the next ten years to “organizations dedicated to ensuring racial equality, social justice and greater access to education.”

“We know Black Lives Matter,” Nike CEO John Donahoe wrote in an employee memo. “We must act, and we must act to help create lasting change that addresses the systematic racism in our society.”

Nike’s “most important priority,” he said, is to fix its internal challenges around diversity and inclusion.

Other retailers and brands in recent days likewise announced financial contributions and/or have taken concrete actions to address racial inequity as consumers appear to be increasingly looking for brands to move beyond only taking stands on issues. For many, donations had already been made to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

“Consumers are done with platitudes and empty statements,”  Ludovica Cesareo, assistant professor of marketing at Lehigh University, told The Wall Street Journal. “They want material action.”

On Friday, Walmart committed $100 million over five years to create a new center on racial equity. CEO Doug McMillon said, “The goal of the center is to help advance economic opportunity and healthier living, including issues surrounding the social determinants of health, strengthening workforce development and related educational systems, and support criminal justice reform with an emphasis on examining barriers to opportunity faced by those exiting the system.”

Target pledged $10 million to support groups working toward social justice and also offered 10,000 hours of pro-bono consulting services for small businesses owned by people of color in the Twin Cities to help with rebuilding efforts.

Best Buy promised to establish more than 100 new Teen Tech Centers, which help middle and high school students from disinvested communities receive free technology training., Apple, Glossier, Gap, Home Depot, Lululemon, McDonald’s, Sephora, Starbucks and Warby Parker are among others making contributions to social justice groups.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that consumers are generally demanding more than statements of solidarity from brands and retailers around social causes or is racial inequality a unique issue? What guidelines would you recommend setting for such initiatives?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Consumers now demand that companies put their money where their mouth is when it comes to social causes – and this is a good thing."
"People are asking “How many POC executives do you have? Board members?”"
"Words of solidarity and sympathy are insufficient. Now only action will earn trust."

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12 Comments on "Are words of support no longer enough?"

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Chris Buecker

Yes, definitely. For a company to make statements of solidarity but then have workers at its own subcontractors in Asia working under unethical conditions is rather embarrassing. This behavior is not accepted anymore by a growing number of consumers — and this is good!

Shep Hyken

To watch a company like Nike, is to watch corporate “poetry in motion.” You may not agree with everything they do, but it is all very well thought out. Their community involvement and willingness to participate in controversial discussions has been one of the reasons Nike stands out and resonates with so many. They take a stand for what they believe in. They take risks with those stands. They lose customers along the way. But the result is authenticity that draws their customer base closer to them. Can every brand do this? Probably not. Whenever you take a controversial or political position, you’ll polarize your audience/customers.

When it comes to certain brands, some consumers want to know what they stand for. Study brands like Nike and Chick-fil-A to learn how to promote what you stand for and navigate both the benefits and pitfalls of doing so.

Bethany Allee

Consumers now demand that companies put their money where their mouth is when it comes to social causes – and this is a good thing. Companies stepping up to fund and address racial inequality furthers this notion.

For most social causes, to ensure sensitivity and inclusion, diversity boards will help companies ensure their execution meets the mark. Good intentions are nice, but mis-execution negatively impacts brands and soils the intent.

Suresh Chaganti

Very few brands wade directly into the societal issues and make it part of the brand ethos. Nike is one example. Having made a firm commitment with actions, such brands need to continue to exhibit consistent behavior that their customers expect.

For others, they would have preferred not be in this situation, and do the minimum possible so as not to sound tone deaf. I doubt such commitments and words will make a meaningful difference to the overall situation. But will certainly help the direct beneficiaries.

Laura Davis-Taylor

In the race to brand loyalty, especially in this never-before-seen climate, taking a stand can mean everything. I learned in the RetailWire Live! we did a few weeks back on marketing analytics that your best customers are currently the single most important thing to focus on. With that in mind, it’s imperative to take action on the issues that align with what they expect from you—to do the right thing. Not only will you keep the ones that hold your brand closest, but you will likely create new loyalists as well. The current climate may be polarizing, but staying neutral is not a good strategy.

Neil Saunders

Words are important. So too are donations. However, actions that create a meaningful difference are the best approach. Amazon, for example, has an ongoing program that supports teaching kids and young people (from grade school all the way to university level) coding skills. They aim this at disadvantaged communities. Some of these students go on to work for Amazon, some go elsewhere. It’s a great example of an action that is equipping people with much-needed skills that will give them social and economic mobility.

Brandon Rael

We were already witnessing changing consumer behaviors, as they gravitated to brands that were demonstrating a true social responsibility, openness about their product sourcing, and driving greater transparency around their entire operations. In a sea of social media posts, Instagram hashtags, and statements of solidarity, companies such as Nike are taking significant strides to come up with a constructive authentic approach to the challenge we are facing with diversity and inclusion.

Nike’s strategies may backfire with some, however the company has always taken provocative stances on social issues, and it has resonated with many. We should applaud and support brands that are taking significant steps and strides with such a critical social issue.

Lisa Goller

Words of solidarity and sympathy are insufficient. Now only action will earn trust. For instance, companies can embrace a diverse supply chain and workforce, including leadership. They can also commit to supporting initiatives that help prosperity flow into traditionally disadvantaged communities. This decade, companies with a sincere commitment to unity and equality will gain an edge.

Paula Rosenblum

People are asking “How many POC executives do you have? Board members?”

There are no guidelines beyond “pick the most qualified candidates and make sure you’ve done a gut check on your prejudices.” No one is looking for a handout. They want a chance to do what they can do!

Gene Detroyer

I am very pleased to see companies actually take action. It isn’t anything they are required to do. But most impressive is that they take these actions at the risk of alienating a certain segment of their customers. They have chosen to do what is good, right and desirable as human beings. Something that is diametrically opposed to the much embraced Friedman Doctrine of what corporate objectives should be.

I have no problem or objection for companies that choose to do nothing. That is their prerogative. But I have huge problems with the companies pandering to the crisis, this one or another one, and showing no action. There must be a name for these insincere “we are with you” words. (If any of you know it, please let me know.) I truly find the “we are with you” words just plain revolting.

Ralph Jacobson

Simply pouring money toward a cause is nice good will, however a consistent corporate culture demonstrating societal commitment is more genuine and credible.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
1 year 14 days ago

Yes, the ongoing protests are proof that the population at large is done with empty promises and platitudes not backed up by action. This is true at all levels and like so many things during the pandemic, these are trends that have been accelerated from the level at which we saw them pre-COVID. Whether it is brands, governments, or other institutions, people around the world are expressing their strong desire for change and real action being taken, not just words of hope.

"Consumers now demand that companies put their money where their mouth is when it comes to social causes – and this is a good thing."
"People are asking “How many POC executives do you have? Board members?”"
"Words of solidarity and sympathy are insufficient. Now only action will earn trust."

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