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Brands! Don’t tell me you’re “committed”, show me…

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Dawn Kofie, Content designer, Scottish Government

I tell my friends I’m committed to eating less dark chocolate Choco Leibniz biscuits. But that doesn’t mean I’m putting any effort into making it a reality. 

So when businesses trumpet their commitment to tackling the climate emergency, or insist that they’re making their workplaces, sectors and brands more inclusive and equitable, I think about the gulf that can exist between stating an intention and acting on it, and I take their purposeful-sounding words with a cellarful of salt.

And it’s likely that your customers do, too. Especially when they see:

  • hastily chucked-together pledges after high-profile atrocities
  • knee-jerk responses to embarrassing PR fails
  • cheap and easy ways of flying the flag for the latest social issues 

Where’s the bandwagon? 

And if they don’t have any concrete, measurable and status quo-shifting actions to back them up, rest assured, your commitments will come off as cynical attempts to mark yourself out as ‘one of the good ones’. 

Customers can sniff out insincerity, inconsistency and bandwagon-jumping at 30 paces, too. The scrutiny aimed at brands giving their logo a rainbow makeover during Pride month is one of the most recent examples of this. 

And they’re not going to believe that you’re doing everything you can to protect their privacy if you use deceptive patterns (tricks used by websites and apps to make you take a particular action), so you can hoover up all their data.

And, as many brands have found out to their reputational cost, customers won’t have any qualms about sharing what they know on social media. Burger King’s fake real sexism on International Women’s Day was a particularly high profile incident that ended in a public apology. 

Talk is cheap

Bill Bernbach, the American creative director who changed the face of advertising in the 1960s, said “it’s not a principle until it costs you money”. This applies to corporate commitments too. 

If your public pledges are genuine, they’ll probably cost you something. It might be cash. It might be time. It might be an apology (a proper one, not a, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ fauxpology). Or the wrath of people who don’t agree with you.

Confusing saying with doing

Self symbolic completion is a psychological theory that might explain why you’re failing to practice what you preach. It suggests that we get and display symbols that demonstrate that we’re the person (or brand) we think we should be. Or society wants us to be. 

An example of this would be, brands posting about International Woman’s Day. When self symbolic completion’s at play, tapping ‘post’ or ‘share’ is where their commitment ends. Because the goal is getting all that lovely positive external recognition for supporting gender equality. Once the social kudos is in the bag, there’s no need to get involved in actually tearing down the patriarchy.

The most convincing companies show how their commitments work in practice. 

What does true commitment look like?

Shoe repair and key cutting chain Timpson doesn’t just say, “all of our colleagues are considered to be part of our family, and looking after them is our number one priority.” 

It has a list of unconventional employee benefits on its website. These include a day off when it’s your child’s first day at school, up to £250 towards driving lessons if you’ve worked for them for at least a year and free use of the company’s holiday homes.

Earnest references to diversity and inclusion in job descriptions are pretty standard. But in their advert for a Senior Graphic Designer, Bumble puts theirs right at the top: 

“We strongly encourage people of colour, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and non-binary people, veterans, parents, and individuals with disabilities to apply. Bumble is an equal opportunity employer and welcomes everyone to our team. If you need reasonable adjustments at any point in the application or interview process, please let us know.

In your application, please feel free to note which pronouns you use (For example – she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, etc).”

This fits with its aim to, “…work to create a culture rooted in kindness, honesty, inclusivity, accountability and growth. 

And as well as selling sustainable fashion, ethical clothing store Sanchos is creating shwap, a platform for “honest second-hand clothes.”

Whatever your commitments are, they can’t only live in social media posts, or rarely read policy documents tucked away in a dusty corner of your intranet. They have to infuse what you do and how you do it. 

Commit to your commitments by being consistent. Bake them into everything you do. Make sure your UX writing, content, procurement decisions, tone of voice, recruitment processes and how you treat your staff all reflect what you really stand for. 

Because actions speak so much louder than carefully-crafted position statements or promises to eat less (extremely delicious) biscuits. 

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