How Will Your Business React When the Winds of Social Change Blow?

 In Blog Post, Hank Yuloff, Marketing Ideas

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Most of you entrepreneurs who are reading this will understand it as a cautionary tale. It reminds us that as the winds of social change blow, your business could get caught up in the hurricane.  To carry that metaphor further, the United States is currently in the middle of a hurricane that is finally ripping the roof off the building where we store our racist symbols. This is not the first time that building has been under (attack) (blown apart) (had one of its wings destroyed). It is not completely gone, but let’s take a look at what has happened from the business point of view, and what you can do for your own business.

We will discuss several companies that all knew they had a problem. Some had previously made subtle and insignificant changes that kept them ‘safe’ from the burden of needing to change and gave them cover, but when their hands are forced because of social media and overwhelming public outcry they scramble to get in front of it.

The Winds of Social Change Affect Politics and Business

Most of us, have walked past the syrup section of our local store and had those ‘uncomfortable’ feelings when we see the Aunt Jemima brand.  “Well, the Quaker Oats company must know what they are doing – they ARE a large corporation. And hey, there is Mrs. Butterworth’s, too.” Yes, how many of us have looked at that female-shaped bottle and thought “Is that supposed to be the offensive “Mammy” racial caricature for Black women? No… couldn’t be.” And then we see the Aunt Jemima brands of syrup and pancake products. If Butterworth is questionable, then Jemima is obvious. When the hurricane hit, Quaker Oats, (owned by PepsiCo since 2001), used it as an opportunity to finally say goodbye to Aunt Jemima, the face of its pancake batter and syrup brand for over 130 years.  They had been ‘rained’ on before. But when rain turns into a hurricane coming your direction, it’s best to get out of the way.

Right now, you could be thinking: “This is all obvious. And I have nothing to worry about. All my logos and products do not offend.” So let’s move on.

Conagra Brands started seeing rain clouds and announced on June 17 that they have “begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s.”  My opinion is that they are looking to see how the wind is blowing before spending the cash for a re-do. Their marketing department and public relations department will get together and convince the sales department that it is time. Here was there statement. See how it resonates with you from a “do we or do we not spend the money?” (Point of View)

“The Mrs. Butterworth's brand, including its syrup packaging, is intended to evoke the images of a loving grandmother,” Conagra Brands said in a statement Wednesday:

“We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values. It's heartbreaking and unacceptable that racism and racial injustices exist around the world. We will be part of the solution. Let's work together to progress toward change.”

That is a company seeing where the winds of social change will blow.

Let’s compare that with the Quaker Oats statement. It demonstrates a company that has a firm direction to get past the hurricane and on to smoother waters. North American CMO Kristin Kroepfl is saving the brand.

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers' expectations.”

As soon as Kroepfl made that statement, another company followed Quaker Oats to a safe harbor.   A few hours after, Mars Inc, parent company for Uncle Ben’s Rice said they would retire the Uncle Ben character which had long been rightly attacked as racist.  The term ‘uncle’ dates back to the Jim Crow era as a term whites used for black men.  The Mars statement was unequivocal “Now is the right time to evolve the brand… We don't yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.”

That led to another company seeking safe harbor.

B&G Foods, owner of Cream of Wheat—which bears a smiling black chef on the box who is based on a racist caricature from minstrel shows—said, “We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism.”

All of these companies followed the leader, who acted as the hurricane was just forming. Land O’Lakes, based in Minnesota, made its move in April. The company removed the kneeling Native American woman, long seen as an offensive stereotype, from the packages of its butter products.

Eskimo Pie – The same year as The Black Wall Street Massacre, a new product was introduced. Christian Kent Nelson, a confectionery shop owner, thought of combining chocolate and ice cream after a boy in his store had difficulty deciding which to purchase. Nelson's partner, Russell Stover came up with the name Eskimo Pie.

Just as the product was planning for its 100th anniversary, the company's owner, Dryer’s Grand Ice Cream company, acknowledged that the name is going to be dropped. Their statement said that ‘the name is deragatory.’

Elizabell Marques, the head of marketing for Dreyer’s told CBS that:

“We have been reviewing our Eskimo Pie business for some time and will be changing the brand name and marketing. We are committed to being a part of the solution on racial equality, and recognize the term is derogatory.”

The most interesting part of that statement was the phrase “FOR SOME TIME.”

To me, this means that the company had been fending off small groups of people who have consistently been telling the company to change. The current hurricane blew the roof off it. Eskimo Pie is another example for companies that are looking to get ahead of the curve when the winds of social change blow.

As Jeremy Blum wrote on Huff Post:

“Eskimo is a catch-all word that was used by nonnative people to describe the Inuit, Yupik and other indigenous people of northern North America. It is considered “derogatory … because it was given by non-Inuit people and was said to mean ‘eater of raw meat,’” according to the Alaska Native Language Center.

“Linguists now believe that ‘Eskimo’ is derived from an Ojibwa word meaning ‘to net snowshoes,’” the center said, referring to the language of a tribe of indigenous people in the Upper Midwest and Canada.”

2020 Was Not The First Year to See The Winds of Social Change Blow

This is not the first time movement away from racist corporate representations have come down.  Nor is it the end of the line. Here are just a couple of examples of change to occur when the winds of social change blow:

Sambo’s Restaurant – A Santa Barbara restaurant chain that started in 1957, it was named after parts of the owners names (Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett) but rapidly began associated with The Story of Little Black Sambo.

Wikipedia explains:

“Battistone and Bohnett capitalized on this connection by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy, tigers, and a pale, magical unicycle-riding man called “The Treefriend”. By the early 1960s, the illustrations depicted a light-skinned boy wearing a jeweled Indian-style turban with the tigers.”

The last of the 1,117 locations (peak in 1979) continued in business under that name until 2020. The George Floyd protests have resulted in the current owners finally changing the name.

Cleveland Indians – The major league baseball team had, since 1948 used a cartoonish representation of a Native American on its uniforms and, for decades, been challenged to change their logo. In 2018  they announced that as of the following season, their logo representing ‘Chief Wahoo’ would disappear and be replaced by the “C.” This was a decision that the team made knowing that it would cost them a lot of money, though they did give themselves almost an entire year for the merchandise to sell out.

When the Winds of Social Change Blow, Here is an example of what one company can do:

On June 12, 2020 Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was detained and arrested for DUI while sleeping in a parking lot of a Wendy's restaurant in Atlanta.

Due to a very disturbing situation, Mr. Brooks was shot twice in the back and killed while fleeing from the police officers.

Some misguided individual decided that it was the restaurant's fault and lit it on fire. We will not get into the politics of this, but rather what one particular company could do.

If I owned that Wendy's franchise, I would announce that I was going to rebuild the location. I would also announce that a certain percentage of the profits from that store would go towards a fund I would set up in Mr. Brooks' name. The purpose of the fund would be to donate to social justice causes. Every year, on the day of his murder, we would hold an event at the restaurant. We would allow several social justice non-profits put up tents in the parking lot and promote their causes. It would become a celebration of Mr. Brooks life and attempt to find some positive out of his untimely and needless death. I believe that would make that particular Wendy's the “Rayshard Brooks Wendy's.” This would increase sales and the profits of this store. This increased revenue would be a positive for the owner and their community.  We can always look for the positive in a negative situation.

So, my fellow SMALL business owners, you may be asking ‘what do I do now?’

First, is to understand that you and I are not infallible. We are not perfect. We all see the world through a lens that sometimes has to be polished. Most important is for us to be open to understanding the things that may cause sensitivity to others. Some are quite obvious and some will have to be brought to our attention. When the winds of social change blow we should remember that we do not walk in their shoes.  Be open to others.

What is going on in your business?  Are you looking to be on the positive side? Then we suggest you take a good look at the sales tools you use. “But I’m not a racist,” you say.  Good that you're not! But what if you were creating a slide presentation and mistakenly used a symbol, or a photo that had a symbol in the background that was offensive to potential clients?

We recently went through all our presentations for two reasons.

First was to update the methods of selling we are all currently facing (details are in another blog). Every one of our marketing-centric presentations had to have information added. In fact, at least 15% of the slides from our 2 ½ day Small Business Breakthrough Bootcamps are being changed. The second reason for the slide check, was to do this sensitivity check discussed above.  Out of hundreds of slides in dozens of small business marketing presentations, we only found one, so we switched it out.

Do you want to discuss how this will affect your business? Would a review of your services and products reflect your company values?  Do you want to be on the right side when the winds of social change blow?     Let’s have a conversation. We would like to offer you a Free Marketing Consultation. Most small business owners that take advantage of this conversation report back to us that this success call was worth at least $10,000 in increased sales and savings to their bottom line. Let’s begin our conversation by increasing your profits and your sensitivity. Go now to www.FreeMarketingConsultation.com

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