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Over the past year, cancel culture has become a hotly documented topic and the debate over whether it is a justifiable action looks set to rumble on for a while yet. But what exactly is cancel culture and how can businesses and brands avoid falling victim to it?
Cancel culture is defined as being, ‘The practice of withdrawing support for a person or company based on their views or actions’. In a year that has seen the likes of many well-known people and brands (even Mr Potato Head!) finding themselves ostracised, cancel culture is not something that companies can afford to bury their head in the sand about.
Cancel culture first gained momentum on social media as a result of the #Metoo and other societal movements demanding greater accountability from public figures. Now, barely a day goes by without us hearing about the latest brand or celebrity to have found themselves cancelled, with years of hard work and their good reputation damaged – often beyond repair.
Traditionally, businesses have strived above all else to generate a profit from providing their customers with great products and excellent service, and most have shied away from taking any stance on political issues for fear of alienating their customer base. But times have changed and in today’s socially conscious society, the brands who choose not to take a stand about the issues they care about are arguably the ones taking the biggest risk. You can find out more about this topic on our most recent podcast about purpose – check out Episode 14 here.
What has brought about this significant change in consumer attitude and expectations?
We’re living in a world where trust in government is at an all time low and consumers are more reliant than ever on their favourite brands to take a stand on the issues they care about and to make a positive impact on society. Having great products and service is essential, but should be a given. These days, successful brands need to be about so much more than the obvious.
Being cancelled is a scary prospect for any company or individual, but the reality is that cancel culture is more about holding companies to account than causing their permanent downfall. In-fact, 88% of consumers are more willing to forgive a company for making a mistake if it shows a genuine attempt to change.
As with any crisis, prevention is always going to be better than cure, so what can companies do to protect themselves from being cancelled? It probably comes as little surprise that it all boils down to values, behaviours and culture.
No brand is altogether safe from cancel culture, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent it from happening and minimise the damage if it does.
- Having a purpose is essential:
Having a purpose is important for a multitude of different reasons (check out Episode 14 of our podcast, Revitalise & Grow, to find out more about the role of purpose for your business). When it comes to cancel culture, having a clear purpose will always provide a strong baseline to enable you to know which issues you want to take a stance on, the impact you want to have on society and the courage to organically defend your brand and its values when required.
- Be mindful of your brand ambassadors:
Cancellation through association has become a problem for brands. Having a well known ambassador onboard to promote your brand can be a powerful thing, but if your chosen ambassador falls from grace it’s highly likely that your company will come under scrutiny too. If you choose to affiliate a specific person with your brand, make sure they align to your company’s purpose and values and be prepared to either stand beside them (a la Nike) or take action against them if they find themselves being cancelled.
- Don’t neglect your crisis plans:
Risks to your business aren’t static and will almost certainly change over time. Make sure that you are reviewing your company’s crisis plans and procedures on a regular basis and ensure you include an action plan to cover how to respond in the face of being cancelled. As with any crisis, time is of the essence and the faster you are able to act the better. Download our free and simple crisis plan workbook here to get you on your way!
- No comment is not an option:
Cancel culture is all about accountability and the days of issuing a statement of, ‘No comment’, are long gone (and rightly so!). When things go wrong, consumers want to know what a brand is thinking and feeling as well as the action it intends to take. The luxury of remaining neutral is no longer an option. At best it will make your company look as if it doesn’t care and at worse can appear as an admission of guilt.
- Actions speak louder than words:
If the worst should happen and your company finds itself under scrutiny for something that’s been said or done, always be sure to prioritise actions over words. Consumers will want to know your stance on the situation but will almost certainly care more about the actionable steps you intend to take to address the situation.
Be cautious about sharing statements of solidarity on social media too. One off initiatives that have no real alignment to your company’s purpose will hold little meaning to the consumer and may even result in your brand getting called out for making empty promises and lacking integrity.
- Listen to your customers:
Let’s not forget that cancel culture is all about holding brands and people accountable for their actions. Nobody wants to attract negative publicity, but if you do find your company being called out take the time to listen properly to what’s being said, act with integrity and don’t be afraid to admit to making mistakes.
And if you’d like to discuss the role of purpose in your business, sign up to our free 30 minute online Revitalise & Grow session, You will get a one to one session with a communications expert who will listen to your challenges and identify gaps within your current strategy.
You’ll then be sent a follow up document with recommended solutions and top tips for taking your business to the next level.
Revitalise and Grow has been designed with you in mind. There are no hidden strings and we will never give you the hard sell. This is our promise to you, from one business to another.