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Brands Taking a Stand: The Future of Employer Branding in the Age of Activism

How brands engage (or don’t engage) in activism could have a significant effect on their ability to grow and attract the best talent.

In response to the political and social unrest of recent years, civilian activism has become a global force — and for brands that would rather operate independent of politics, a neutral approach has become more and more difficult to sustain.

While corporations’ recent attempts to actively engage with this wave of protest culture has had mixed results, one thing has become clear: turning a business-as-usual eye to public outcry is no longer an option. Consumers demand authenticity from brands, and brands would be wise to transition toward transparency with a steady diet of tangible action.

How A Brand Can Get Activism Wrong (Or Right!)

Uber’s rise to ubiquity seemed to happen in an instant. Initially, most mentions of the transportation wunder-company spearheaded by bad passenger Travis Kalanick began with “I’ll just call an…” But after a series of PR disasters, the company’s quick rise to ridesharing fame has been tarnished.

Even before revelations of rampant in-office sexual misconduct really caught fire, Uber was thrust under the uncompromising gaze of activism by simply continuing to function. After President Trump’s hastily implemented Muslim Ban, competitor Lyft halted service to the airports where massive protests were taking place, in solidarity with striking taxi drivers.

Uber, on the other hand, continued to service these airports without acknowledging the controversy. Regardless of the actual intent behind its lack of a stance, Uber suffered the consequences of its apathy: not only did the company become an object of derision amid accusations of strike-breaking, it also suffered a tangible loss in market share (to the tune of 200,000 unhappy customers) and an irreparable blow to its employer brand image. A response from Kalanick was too little, too late, drawing further accusations of tone-deafness.

Savvier — if baldly opportunistic — brands seized upon Uber’s mistake and took a stand. In addition to halting service, Lyft’s CEO Logan Green unequivocally condemned the ban and pledged a million dollar donation to the ACLU. In his own response to the executive order and consequent outrage, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz threw a promise of 10,000 jobs for refugees into the arena. Cynical as these reactive gestures may seem, Starbucks and Lyft understood two things very well: the winds of public opinion, and that a brand ought to sway with those gusts as decisively as possible.

A Brand Has To Stand For Something (And Show It)

Besides a glowing review from their customers, these companies also received a leg up in their employer branding efforts: After all, most young, prospective employees would choose to work for the ACLU-supporting champion of democratic freedom over the tone-deaf strike-breaker.

While your company’s job page may make some mention of your brand’s values or commitments, stated tenets alone (no matter how heartfelt) may not be enough to attract the generation of modern activism, a.k.a. Millennials. For many job-seekers in that demographic, a prospective employer must not simply profess their do-gooder inclinations; they must actively pursue the greater social good.

By taking active measures to “prove” their community service credentials, brands will better attract a generation whose favourite hobby is awareness. Brands like Bloomberg have been quick to embrace these values on a large scale with ambitious programs around clean energy, while community staples like Chili’s prominently advertise empowerment and development programs alongside their job openings.

Of course, actively engaging in initiatives to promote the social good is only valuable to your employer brand if you document these efforts. Fortunately, brands who want to showcase their do-good-nik deeds need turn no further than the medium that allowed this latest wave of activism to bloom and evolve in the first place: Video.

Video Now, VR Later?

Brands that engage effectively with millennial customers and job-seekers have one thing in common: they recognise the value of video. By incorporating this immersive, stimulating medium into their employer branding campaigns and corporate recruitment efforts, brands can capture the imaginations of their target audience while telling their unique stories.

Brands that are able to use video will be winning the present; brands that are looking forward to the yet-more immersive possibilities of virtual reality and interactive video will be winning the future. Video is the world’s most transparent medium because it is the most immersive, and brands that seek a reputation for authenticity would be wise to harness its power. Whether it’s the frontlines of a protest or an IPO ceremony, everyone wants to feel like they were there.

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