The results of the U.S. presidential election have left an even more bitterly polarized country in its wake. For those of us who are committed to using business and culture as forces for good, however, the time is now to double down and use our energies, expertise, and resources in even more inventive and productive ways to create inclusive societies that positively impact people and our planet.
Brands and corporations are one of the few things left that operate at a scale that affects the lives of everyone, from job creation to environmental impact. It is a huge win if all of these resources can be marshaled towards not only making a profit but also benefiting the lives of everyday Americans in meaningful and positive ways. Similarly, culture creators, as the bellwethers of our society, help shape the beliefs, mindsets, perceptions and values that are the underpinnings for social change. Their music, art, stories and designs play an important role in creating a better world; they have the power to connect with the hearts and minds of people and move them to action, not just as fans and consumers, but also as responsible global citizens.
Here are five things brands and culture creators can do right now:
Find common ground. It may seem difficult to believe, but there is more we have in common than that which divides us. All of us, whether in red states or blue states, want a fair and just system that provides economic opportunity to everyone; we all want safer neighborhoods, better education and a planet that is safe to leave to our children. We need to be reminded of our common humanity, and brands with their storytelling powers and resources can be great unifiers in these troubled times. (See Amazon Prime’s commercial by London agency Joint about a Priest and Imam meeting for a cup of tea or Anomaly’s stirring work for Johnny Walker).
Back up the promise with proof. Brands need to move beyond highlighting messages of support only via their advertising and go deeper: they need to stand up against discrimination, like when Salesforce and the NBA stood up to anti-LGBTQ legislation in North Carolina, or when Target stood its ground on transgender bathrooms. Partnering with nonprofits dedicated to solving societal problems like social and economic justice, environmental issues, and civil rights is a superb way to unleash the resources of a brand, and align it with the authenticity and depth of a nonprofit that is able to translate it into action on the ground.
Stop advertising and solve problems. Brands need to also put their money and actions where their mouths are by following through with investment in programs and activations that create tangible results. If, for instance, we see a reluctance on the part of government to create positive solutions for climate change, then we should work even harder to make clean energy solutions, whether domestic solar panels or electric cars, so cheap, so attractive and so widely available to everyone that market forces will help drive the reversal in carbon that is so desperately needed.
Think citizens not consumers. Brands should also work with federal, state and local governments to address the needs of the working-class voters who have felt left out of economic opportunities. Just as many jobs are being lost to automation and algorithms, so too will new jobs be created by the promise of new technologies like 3D printing, clean energy, drones etc. Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, the nonprofit behind the revolutionary B Corps business model (which includes brands like Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia and Kickstarter), says "Unleashing the power of business to address our most challenging problems has never been more needed." We need to see a resurgence in American ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and manufacturing to ensure every single citizen lives a life of purpose and prosperity.
Find allies. And finally, the need for culture creators (artists, musicians, filmmakers etc) to step up and get involved is now doubly required. We have seen artists like Beyonce, Common, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and many more step up to use their creativity to shine a light on social injustices; now is the time for them to create new alliances with brands and nonprofits to do even more good in society than ever before. The storytellers and cultural entrepreneurs are the ones who can galvanize not just their fans but hundreds of millions of people to take action. Artists now have an opportunity to exercise not just their creative imagination, but their moral imagination.
As leaders in business and culture, we should learn from this moment and only strive harder to help this divided country unify, to stand up for the discriminated and help give opportunity to those who have been denied it.
That is how we will make America great….period.
—Afdhel Aziz, director of Absolut Labs, and Bobby Jones, CMO of Peace First, are the co-authors of "Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn."