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Black Lives Marketing is not transformational change

by: Sabrina Clarke

4 min. read

· Transformation,Entrepreneurship

The global protests because of George Floyd’s murder has turned into what may be one of the most significant tipping point moments for racial justice and equity. Black Lives Matter protesters are demanding not only change but transformation. The movement is calling for justice for George Floyd, his family and an overhaul of policing.

Due to the momentum and steps towards accountability such as the eventual arrests and charging of the officers involved, and states like New York passing police reform bills, there have been different movements emerging. The one I have been paying the closest attention to is Black (corporate) Lives Matters (my term for want of a better description). I have been on social media and seen post after posts of people calling out notable companies and generally asking three questions 1) If Black Lives Matter why don’t you have black people on your board? 2) If Black Lives Matter where are all the black people in your company? 3) Since you are happy to take ‘black money’ where is your support of black people?

As a transformation subject matter expert, I tend to structure any change business or social into the tenets of a transformation programme that looks at people, processes and systems. So if we look at this period as a global transformation programme companies and brands are getting unprecedented pressure to transform their organisations for racial equity. When employees, customers and protesters are asking about black board members and employees, they are addressing the people aspect of transformation. When requests for money to be invested back into black communities are made, this looks at the process aspect. Social media is the channel used as the voice of the customer and brands or company, which is the system. There has been several calls to action, but the emphasis has historically been on equality. My observation of this time is that there is more of a collective conscious understanding that black people are treated differently, not equally. So the question is, if Black (corporate) Lives Matter is calling for transformation, why are companies responding with what I call Black Lives Marketing?

To answer the question, I must define what Black Lives Marketing is?

Black Lives Marketing is when a company or brand uses marketing targeted at black people and allies. The marketing engages in strategies like changing logos, putting black squares on social media, having black people in their advertising or releasing statements. Black Lives Marketing does not commit to racial equity by demonstrable actions. Most significant in Black Lives Marketing is when the brand or company has a record of silence, complacency or obstruction towards the black community.

Black Lives Marketing gives the appearance of understanding, progress and empathy but is not. Black Lives Marketing provides brands or companies initial reputational cover, but as we have seen in the past few weeks technology is being used as a tool of transparency. Therefore brands and companies are being exposed. Black Lives Marketing is low hanging fruit and easy to execute with nominal associated costs.

I return to the question I posed earlier if Black (corporate) Lives Matter is calling for transformation, why are companies responding with Black Lives Marketing? There are four possible answers to this question. First, brands or companies don’t have the internal capability to implement the transformation. Second, brands or companies have the internal capability but are not listening to the expertise that is provided. Third, Black Lives Matter is not a priority, but brands or companies want to be 'seen' as doing something, so there is cover. Fourth, they don't care. There are reasons for 'why' I want to shift my focus now as to the 'how'.

For there to be a real transformational change for the brands and companies interested, a commitment to executing at least three strategies I list below is transformative. All three approaches must be completed in parallel. There isn't a 'we have one', and so we’re done. All three must be executed at the same time.

Three strategies to get from Black Lives Marketing to transformation are:

  1. There must be an appointment of at least one black board member and leadership team member. 
  2. There must be a structured supplier diversity programme that has clear key performance indicators and tracks black suppliers. 
  3. There must be investment in organisations that directly support the black community. 

To be clear, this is a basic framework for brands and companies genuinely looking for where to start in this process. There is always more that can, are and should be done. If there is a desire to move beyond Black Lives Marketing to transformation here is where you can start.

In my next article, From Black Lives Marketing to transformation, I will provide examples of brands and companies that are on the spectrum of Black Lives Marketing to Transformation.

Finally, Black Lives Marketing is a phrase that I have coined. Let's use it broadly. My ask is that you cite your source. That source is me.