Activating Successfully Around Black History Month

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By Nairobi Jeanniton, Intern

Over the years, brands have leveraged Black History Month to create campaigns and activations that celebrate and honor the culture, history and successes of black people. In an era when consumers care about meaningful and Purpose-driven messaging, how do companies commemorate Black History Month without seeming inauthentic? The task should be approached delicately and respectfully, as consumers often critically evaluate the authenticity of Black History Month activations. In 2019, some of the nation’s most influential brands took unique approaches to creating purposeful and on-brand Black History Month campaigns.

Think creatively to leverage existing assets

As storytelling becomes a larger part of brand perception, it is important for Black History Month campaigns to be organic and have relevancy to a company’s products, services and Purpose. What better way to achieve this seamlessness than by leveraging core competencies and existing resources to create dynamic activations.

Brands like Lyft and Spotify have placed their Black History Month campaigns at the core of their business models. Rather than donate to a cause, ride-sharing service Lyft gave discounts for those travelling to African-American museums in 30 cities. This increased the accessibility of black culture to patrons nationwide and allowed Lyft to harness its core competencies to serve a cause. In Spotify’s case, the brand used its own assets to curate a series of playlists centered around black artists. The music-hub shared the activation on Twitter, garnering thousands of views, comments and likes that demonstrated the value that consumers place on the exhibition of black art.

Don’t be the main focus

Brands no longer have the charge of just selling a product – they also need to sell their story. Given this landscape adjustment, organizations need to be careful about inserting themselves into social conversations in inauthentic ways. When a company takes a stand on a social or environmental issue, 65 percent of Americans do research to see if it is being authentic. Some companies have found that the subtle approach – prioritizing Purpose and putting brand-messaging second – is most effective.

This Black History Month, Hennessy produced a video series called “We Are,” which highlighted black creators and digital natives. During each video, speakers were provided a glass of Hennessy as a refreshment while they engaged in dialogue. While Hennessy was never mentioned by name, it established itself as a thought leader in amplifying black voices and culture while having its brand present in an authentic, subtle way.

Engage your employees

It’s important to maintain a positive public image, but brands have not discounted the importance of employee engagement. For Black History Month, some companies looked internally to not only celebrate those who lead across various business units, but to also strengthen cultural competency within the workplace. Verizon chose Black History Month as a moment in time to boost its communication around Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). This fundamental part of the company’s infrastructure is a natural moment in time in which to promote Diversity & Inclusion while reminding employees there are safe spaces for them in the workplace. For Black History Month, the brand leveraged the CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, to speak to its employees about leadership and diversity.

Kimberly-Clark, a multinational personal care corporation, celebrated the strength of its diverse ERGs, too. For Black History Month, the company’s African-American ERG celebrated its members who led across Kimberly-Clark’s brands as mentors, thought leaders and innovators.

As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s important to remember that the time to celebrate minority cultures is not limited to February. Brands can use this opportunity to continuously uplift and amplify black voices within their organizations, keeping in mind that establishing themselves as a long-term player in advocating for diverse representation demonstrates – and requires – an authenticity in Purpose. The landscape for Purpose-driven campaigns is changing and anyone can be a leader in that space – with the right approach.