Being ‘woke’ isn’t a trend: it’s a movement.
Instead of fighting it, more and more companies are in the process of rebranding themselves as ‘woke’ too.
Here’s why it matters.
Why being ‘woke’ is important to millennials and Gen Z
Simply put, to be ‘woke’ means to be socially aware and acting on it. Nowadays, customers have a wide range of companies to support and purchase from. With the aid of the Internet, they now have much more information, not only on the company’s products and services but also its history and actions.
It’s not enough to just have a great product or service anymore. What people want to know is how your company is creating social good in the world.
To keep up, companies have made significant efforts to improve their PR in a bid to appeal to socially aware markets like Millennials and Gen Z. Corporate social responsibility projects are now taking centre stage as companies are starting to take them more seriously.
And it works. Millennials are much more likely to purchase from socially responsible brands. It’s common business sense: customers will support brands that believe in what they believe.
‘Wokeness’ and the power of call-out culture
However, this can also go the completely opposite direction. In fact, companies that make morally dubious actions have been repeatedly called-out and shamed on social media, creating a negative public perception that can affect a company’s bottom line.
An example would be Blizzard Entertainment, a leading videogame developer and publisher, that has produced some of the world’s most popular games. The company recently found themselves in hot water for punishing a player for publicly supporting the Hong Kong protests by stripping him of USD10,000 in winnings and barring him from the game for a year. This has created significant public outrage in the gaming community, leading to many customers outright cancelling their Blizzard subscriptions and pre-orders in support of the #BlizzardBoycott.
‘Wokeness’ (or lack thereof) now makes all the difference. It’s what makes a company stand out from its competitors, for either the right or wrong reasons.
Authenticity is key
It’s not enough to pay lip service to social issues. For companies to rebrand as ‘woke’ requires that efforts come from an authentic place.
Case in point: Pride Month 2019.
It seemed like every other company showed its support for the LGBT+ community and Pride Month by releasing a rainbow variant of their logo on social media. Let’s get this clear: this isn’t a bad thing. The problem is that it comes off more as a marketing strategy built on virtue-signalling, an opportunity to grab a few quick bucks and brownie points, rather than showing unity with the struggles of the LGBT+ community.
These companies aren’t fooling anyone: Millennials and Gen Z can see right through this.
Companies need to make a sustained effort to commit to its advocacies instead of making it a mere afterthought. Being ’woke’ doesn’t end once the celebration is over, and it takes more than just slapping a rainbow filter onto a company logo.
For instance, if you’re looking to rebrand your company as LGBT-friendly, look at how your company treats equality in the workplace. Do LGBT+ employees receive the same benefit coverage as their heterosexual counterparts? Are they discriminated against in the workplace? Without resolving key issues like these, the logo stint is just hypocritical.
Authenticity is key. To do otherwise is just gimmicky pandering, which can easily backfire and come off as shallow as corporations during Pride Month.
How companies can be ‘woke’
Nike is a prime example of a company that was able to position itself as a ‘woke’ brand among its competitors.
One of its most controversial moves was the signing-on of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player under fire for taking a knee during the US National Anthem to protest police violence against minorities, as a Nike brand ambassador.
While the campaign didn’t sit well with everyone, it resonated very strongly with Nike’s audience. The risk paid off for Nike, creating one of its most effective campaigns to date.
Nike’s release of a sports performance hijab has sparked similar controversy, but also runs parallel with the company’s values of inclusivity and diversity.
That’s what being ‘woke’ is about: strong words backed by intentional actions that stay true to the company’s values.
As Nike would put it, it’s about ‘just doing the right thing’.
What it means to be ‘woke’
At the end of the day, people support brands that believe in what they believe. That’s what’s bringing the world’s top brands towards a shift to ‘wokeness’.
More than just a business strategy to attract the attention of Millennials and Gen Z, being ‘woke’ presents an opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves through concrete support of their advocacies. Presenting this in an authentic and sincere manner can create a deep connection with your target customers.
As the world is starting to become more ‘woke’, can your company afford otherwise?