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The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.
I once had a former manager who wanted us to post, share, and comment on every cultural moment. He would be outraged if we missed something. He filled our inboxes and sent us screenshots of what other brands and companies had done.
“Do we wish people a happy Ramadan? It is a big mistake if we don't. "
"It's the Super Bowl. There's nothing more American than football. What's our plan?"
"It's Cinco de Mayo. What should we say?"
How about if we don't say anything? Let's just say nothing. You're welcome.
In our constantly active “attention economy” we are drowning in an abundance of information that demands more and more of our attention. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our collective digital awareness has only grown: 50 percent of consumers were more online. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, we scroll endlessly on social media stuck on our phones.
And with the democratization of content creation, anyone can create the next video, post, tweet that can go viral. So it's no wonder brands are under a lot of pressure to be smart, get to the point, make the breakthrough, stay relevant, and build lasting connections with us.
McDonalds is parting its golden arcs to promote social distancing. A United Bank shares a new debit card design with Harriet Tubman, who makes the Wakanda sign forever. The Gap creates a half blue and half red hoodie to create unity after the post-2020 presidential election. Brand after brand tries to connect with us in “these important moments”.
Lastly, Tropicana urged stressed parents to keep orange juice and champagne in hidden mini-fridges to help fight parenting in a pandemic. The backlash was quick, with consumers outraged that the brand would glorify alcohol use as a coping mechanism and normalize parenting alcohol abuse.
"We apologize to anyone who is disappointed or offended by our recent campaign," wrote Tropicana. "The intent behind this should in no way imply that alcohol is the answer or that it illuminates the addiction struggles."
The Tropicana mimosa campaign was possibly one of the last mishaps we saw in 2020. It also reminds of the pressures brands will continue to face in the New Year to get everything right. With so many of us stuck on our phones and at home in this pandemic, we are tired, frustrated, and tensions are high. We're less likely to be so forgiving when brands make mistakes and are ready to unleash our emotions on Twitter.
See also: What To Do When You Wake Up To A PR Crisis
So what can brands do to avoid public outrage and break culture? If you don't have a place to authentically step into the conversation or connect with that cultural moment, don't. Sit in your FOMO. Do nothing. Sitting on the sidelines for this moment could be the best decision you will make in the New Year.
At the beginning of 2021, as executives, we should ask ourselves three questions when it comes to our brands and moments that are important:
1. Why are you applying pressure?
The relentless pursuit of great content is one thing. Deciding that on the afternoon of Black Women's Equal Pay Day, you suddenly have to set up a social post is a very different matter entirely. When there is no thought or preparation, mistakes are made and brands begin to move into the "break culture" pool.
As someone who was once a junior marketer, I have felt this strong pressure from executives. Executives who don't want to spend time being proactive and constantly reacting to what they see on their social feeds. This can serve as a source of inspiration, or it can put us on a death spiral in which we are constantly chasing and imitating what others are doing. Sometimes we duplicate content and ideas from competitors that are actually not very good.
We need to work with our teams, agencies and think tanks to capture the important cultural moments in 2021. Be proactive instead of reactive. To think about further conversations in this pandemic and what role our brands could play. To make it clear what our brand stands for and when and why we should participate in these conversations.
2. What does your brand stand for?
In the midst of a pandemic, economic crisis, and mass demonstrations over systemic racism, consumers are looking for brands that act and campaign for change. According to the Edelman Brand Trust 2020 survey, 80 percent of consumers want brands to "solve society's problems". It is no longer enough to show your support on social channels with a short, sentimental statement.
This goes beyond a #BlackLivesMatter hashtag – especially if your brand's Instagram feed doesn't feature black talent. This goes beyond making a social contribution to the importance of Women's History Month – especially if you don't have women in your leadership roles. This goes beyond encouraging people to buy a red and blue hoodie for unity after the presidential election – especially if you had nothing to say about our country's social, economic and political problems.
What does your brand actually stand for? How many of us can easily answer this question? You need to know what your values and beliefs are. You need to have well-defined guard rails for what you stand for and what you will stand up for in these important moments.
Related: 3 Ways To Success In Marketing In Modern Times
3. Why should you attend this moment?
In the case of Tropicana, it was probably too tempting not to get into the conversation about how stressful parenting is in this pandemic. A better approach: showing parents how to enjoy mimosa after kids are finally in bed after another long pandemic day of remote working and virtual schooling.
Why should you attend this moment? Once you've prepared for the cultural moments you'd like to attend and know what your brand stands for, you can definitely answer this question. Brands that can use the moment to create relevant and authentic content have done the hard work.
It's hard not to live in fear of public outrage and break off culture. We all make mistakes. If we are deliberate, thoughtful, and prepared, we will make fewer mistakes along the way.
Some may argue that silence and sitting outside is not an option. I would argue that you need to think about why, when, and how you show up. If you don't know how best to do this, sit back and wait for the moment when your brand can make a significant impact.
Related: Is It Time to Hibernate or Speed Up Your PR Efforts?