Before I go any further, let me start by pointing out the elephant in the room, me. I am a middle-aged white dude. Leveraging as much empathy as I can muster, I still can’t fathom what it would be like to be a victim of systemic racism. The closest I can come is the little bit of anti-semitism that I’ve personally experienced. I also want to be clear that this is meant as a business article, not a social commentary. I have too much to learn on that end to offer any meaningful input. Instead, this is in direct response to the many founders that have asked a simple yet simultaneously complex question: “How should my brand show up at this moment in time?”
On the surface, this question is straightforward. Yet, I’ve heard from many founders who are afraid. They don’t know how their brand should respond to the unrest and civil discourse that is taking place in our nation. There is no one answer. I can only offer advice in the form of opinion.
If your reason for responding is any other than a moral imperative to do so, don’t. If your core brand values don’t necessitate that you speak up, then just sit it out. Maybe use this time to reevaluate those core values. The last thing you should do and frankly the last thing the world needs is for your brand to post or share something driven by FOMO. It will ring hollow, it is disingenuous, and you’ll get trolled.
The next element of the question is if you speak out, what do you say? Here again, you need to do a little soul searching personally and as a brand. What is it that you need or want to say? What do your heart and gut tell you? How do your core values guide you? At the end of that self-evaluation, if you still aren’t sure what to say, there is one universally powerful thing that any brand can offer: to listen. As an example: a post that reads, “Understanding starts with listening, and we want to be better at both. Please share your thoughts and experiences with us.” Is this not as powerful as any other statement that you can make?
For those founders reading this who are afraid but feel it is a moral imperative to speak up against racism, do it. It is okay to be scared. Nobody has ever said that standing up for what is right is easy. Yes, there may be blowback. You might even lose consumers, but you’ll be a better brand, and I bet you feel like a better person.
I believe that business is one of the most powerful agents of change. However, the opposite side of that coin is that it is also one of the most frequent sources of corruption. If more founders and their brands seek Understanding, if they speak up and speak out, doing so unabashedly, fearlessly, then the right side of the coin wins the day. Do that, and your brand shows up right there in the middle of it all with empathy, a willingness to listen, a desire to understand, and commitment to be better.
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Elliot Begoun a 30-year industry veteran, author, and the Founder of TIG, a practice focused on helping emerging natural product brands grow. TIG works with its entrepreneurs to build nimble, capital-efficient, resilient brands that become tardigrades, not unicorns. Catch him at FoodBytes, the Hirshberg Entrepreneurship Institute, the Natural Products Business School, and find his articles in publications such as The Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and New Hope.