Nick O'Hara and Mark Havenner


Why you should avoid surfing the latest wave of public sentiment, resist the urge for publicity and instead do the groundwork, with purpose

April 26, 2022


By Nick O’Hara and Mark Havenner

Next month will mark the second anniversary of the killing of a 46-year-old black man in a US city by a white police officer. Tragically, this line could be written every month. We are shocked yet not surprised each time we hear such news. In this particular case, the city was Minneapolis and the man was George Floyd.

Floyd’s murder, which followed those of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in quick succession, sparked an uprising across America and beyond. The main vehicle for the protests came in the form of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which renewed its calls to eradicate racism, discrimination and inequality experienced by black people.

Against this backdrop of global BLM protests two summers ago, social media exploded with corporations and brands wanting to be associated with the movement’s objectives and messaging. Where are they now? Some, such as Nike, are still pressing the case for racial justice. Others are less vocal than they were back then, but have put in place diversity initiatives to try to ensure their organisation is an inclusive place to work. Others still have fallen silent, presumably having gone back to business as usual. Meanwhile, racial inequality continues and the need for justice is as pressing as it was in 2020.

Why We Believe Nike

Nike, with its decades’ long association with prominent African American athletes, is a credible messenger in the space of racial equality. The groundwork has been done, the foundations of public perception firmly cemented. When some people took to social media with videos of themselves burning their Nike sports shoes in opposition to the brand’s support of BLM, it only served to make Nike seem more authentic as an activist for racial justice. Whereas the NFL turned its back on Colin Kaepernick, Nike embraced him.

And people notice this; consumers are savvy. They find voices with purpose and tune out all others, filtering through the noise of the latest trend exploding across their Instagram or Twitter feed. People can sniff out inauthenticity, and ignore brands who are just jumping on the bandwagon.

It is Now Table Stakes for Brands to Have Purpose

There is no shortage of businesses in essentially any category under the sun. There are no geographical boundaries. People can choose to listen to or buy from anyone on the planet at any time. Businesses can no longer influence people to make decisions like they used to, they can only make people aware that they exist.

But who cares if a business exists? The answer is nobody. We don’t care about businesses, unless that business has a purpose we can get behind. Nike understands this.

Look around at the brands you actively follow, whether it be a business services company or a fast food company. Not necessarily the ones you use or consume, but the ones you actively and consciously listen to and care about. What do they have in common? They have a purpose.

Your purpose needs to be about your community, your industry, your world.

Purpose as a driver is critical for any brand and as long as the purpose fundamentally makes a person’s life better or makes the world a better place, it need not move mountains. Having purpose ensures the output of your business is for something greater than yourself. That one thing creates a distinct positioning for you.

The difference is vision.

Business Needs to Be About Something Bigger Than Yourself

Before you do anything else with your communications or marketing, identify what your purpose is. Before you put out another press release, write another email newsletter, put out another Facebook post, before you do any of that— know your purpose, and build your communications from there.

But there’s a catch. Your purpose has to be real. Not just marketing garbage. It needs to be authentically you.

It also can’t be about you.

Your purpose needs to be about your community, your industry, your world. It needs to be external. Yes you may have shareholders and profits to worry about, but that can’t be your purpose. Not truly. Your purpose needs to use business for good in the exact way you are able to do so.

As the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder approaches, expect to see many social media posts and articles make reference to it, just as we do here. Try to spot which ones do so authentically, with purpose.

Hint: those are the ones you will notice, find credible and are likely to remember. The others you will simply filter out.