By: Candice Rawls, Helen Hope Kimbrough & Janet Ervin

The Next Stage team is back again – dusting off our soapbox to talk more about belief-driven buyers and how companies can more authentically engage in cause-led marketing. In our Profit & Purpose report, we talk a lot about the changing expectations of consumers and how newer forms of media have shifted brand communication from a one-way channel to a bi-directional conversation – and how this becomes even more important when you’re engaging in cause-driven branding.

This tension was on full display last week as Walmart rolled out – then retracted – a trademarked Juneteenth ice cream flavor. When a customer snapped a photo of the product, it quickly went viral for all the wrong reasons. Criticism centered on what customers perceived as an inauthentic celebration of the holiday, lack of previous engagement and a profit-driven approach. We wrote a similar blog last year (How ‘Belief-Driven Buyers’ are Changing Brand Engagement) about the ‘rainbow-washing’ marketing that many companies have done during June’s Pride celebrations.

As holidays and celebrations like Juneteenth rise in prominence, it leaves many brands wondering how to best engage. It’s likely that most organizations have good intentions and it’s true that both profit and purpose can have a place – but how can you more authentically leverage cause for your brand? You’ll find tips from the Next Stage team below and you can check out the video to learn more!

  1. Learn – This is an ongoing process. As our team noted in the video, many of us are just now learning more about Juneteenth and its significance. Prior to engaging in any marketing efforts, take the time to fully understand a celebration and its history, the sacrifices people made and how the celebration’s originators choose to celebrate. Partner with nonprofits or educational organizations to get more connected to the ‘why’ before you consider how your company should engage. Consider focus groups with both consumers and your own employees to get feedback from both inside and outside of your company walls.
  2. It’s OK to sit out sometimes – While every brand should engage in social good, it’s not right for every brand to comment on every cause. You may still need to learn more about a celebration’s history. It may take time to develop more authentic partnerships or a track record of support. It may be helpful to turn the spotlight on others who are entrenched in the work. And some occasions just aren’t right for a profit-driven product – the celebration (and your business or nonprofit!) may gain more from engaging in alternative ways, rather than marketing or through direct sales or services.
  3. Consider partnerships – Holidays like Juneteenth are the perfect time to assess your partnerships – or form new ones! Consider how much stronger the ice cream promotion could have been if Walmart had instead partnered with a Black-owned ice cream brand already being sold in their store? Both businesses would have profited through a more authentic, partner-led approach. Another option for nonprofits or businesses is to ally with a nonprofit who is trusted and knowledgeable in the space. This could elevate both the brand and the nonprofit by providing spotlight opportunities, optimizing collective partnership.

While gathering more insight on authentic planning and implementation, especially as it relates to Juneteenth or celebrations with a lens on diversity, equity, and inclusion, Candice attended Raven Solomon’s The DEI ER: How to Respectfully + Responsibly Recognize Juneteenth (check out her podcast The Generational View). In this webinar, Raven offered these three key questions whenever organizations are trying to decide the most appropriate way to recognize a celebration – we found a ton of value in them and are including them here:

  • Who is at the center of this idea?
  • Who benefits from this gesture?
  • How do they benefit from this gesture? (eg – How does the Black community benefit from Juneteenth ice cream? Also keep in mind that not everyone can be centered, but ​​everyone can find value and engage.)

There’s no single ‘right’ way to acknowledge celebrations, as long as your organization is thoughtfully considering the questions above while engaging with community along the way. Therefore, let’s collectively center relationships with our employees, donors, buyers and nonprofit partners to build campaigns that we can all feel proud of!