Organizations with strong brands have more influence today than ever before and are voicing their support for or against social issues.

By Dr. Ward Ulmer, Interim President of Walden University

Illustration of three people speaking with megaphones.What do you stand for?

This seemingly simple question can have far-reaching impact. Lately it is being asked not just of people and nonprofits, but of businesses. Organizations have always had the power to make public social commitments, and according to “cause branding” pioneer Carol Cone, businesses today have more influence than ever before to stimulate important conversations around social issues.

Recent organizations to do so are Levi Strauss, which has taken a stand supporting gun control laws, and Nike when it put controversial NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick front and center in its latest ad campaign. Many other organizations have also taken a stand around a social issue that’s important to them, including Hobby Lobby, P&G, Yoplait, Ben & Jerry’s, Yeti, and Patagonia to name a few. This trend is likely going to continue because that’s what consumers are demanding.

The data are persuasive: A 2018 Sprout Social survey reveals two-thirds (66%) of consumers say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. A 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study found that 77% of Americans feel a stronger emotional connection to purpose-driven companies over traditional companies, and 66% would switch from a product they typically buy to a new product from a purpose-driven company. According to Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study, silence is not an option for “belief-driven buyers.”

In addition, the Cone/Porter Novelli study found more than three-quarters (78%) of Americans believe companies must do more than just make money; they must positively impact society as well. As a result, consumers are making brands put their money where their mouth is. That, according to Walden Center for Social Change Director Dr. William Schulz III, is the critical component when “brands take a stand.”

“On its face, taking a stand can be a very smart business decision to target the millennial generation, in particular, that responds very strongly to that message,” says Dr. Schulz, whose research and expertise is in business and strategic management. “However, I think it’s important that fundamentally we look at what organizations do over the long run. As a conscientious consumer, I want to see a positive feedback loop wherein companies drive sales but also do something with that profit as part of their positive social change goal.”

Though recently America seems to be more politically divided, taking a stand doesn’t have to be about politics. Movements like #MeToo can fuel an organization to be more transparent and vocal about its beliefs and core values as well as act on an issue that’s important to them, their employees and their customers. Others drive their brands from personal experiences, like Susan G. Komen, which was born out of a sister’s promise to do everything she could to end breast cancer forever. This organization has inspired countless corporations and individuals to fight the disease.

Taking a stand is not exclusive to business organizations. At Walden, since our founding nearly 50 years ago, we believe every individual has the power to make a difference in their workplace or their community. We want to be an action-oriented catalyst to help individuals and organizations focused on positive social change to connect and to provide information that will help to foster social change through research, projects, community engagement, and the education of scholar-practitioners.

In the end, it all comes back to purpose. Consider your role and how you are positively contributing to society. Cone says—and I agree—that your purpose is deeply embedded in you.

Though social change means different things to different people, one common thread is improving the lives of others. Consider faculty member Dr. Pamela Glenn, who advocates screening for hidden issues such as domestic violence and human trafficking in the healthcare setting. Dr. John Reaves, a PhD in Management graduate, empowers colleagues to use their voice to challenge the status quo. And Angela Martilik, a PhD in Forensic Psychology student and 2017 Scholar of Change, aims to destigmatize mental health one police department at a time. All of them speak with knowledge and courage in uncomfortable circumstances.

It’s our mission at Walden to prepare scholar-practitioners with the knowledge, skills and tools to effect positive social change. We are in the business of empowering people to do great things. It’s why Walden joined the growing movement of companies to become a Certified B Corporation®, dedicated to creating and contributing to real change.

Our purpose is to help others achieve their purpose. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

What is your purpose?

Man sitting at latop
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