Joe Santana: DEI strategist, author, speaker, member of the gotechbusiness.com Business Council and CEO of Joseph Santana, LLC.
As the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and other black citizens in the United States led to an increase in vocal support for diversity, justice, and inclusion (DEI) from the leaders of major organizations, an “anti- woke’ backlash in the background and is now on many news headlines. The most prominent of these was the war between the governor of Florida and Disney to Anheuser-Busch drew all the heat for themselves after their 2023 Super Bowl commercial. Considering this, many CEOs might be hesitant to take a supportive stance for or against DEI.
And, of course, that’s exactly what the deviant crowd wants these CEOs to do. Support their views or be silent. But that would be a mistake. Many studies show that consumers want their brands to take a stand and support the values they support. According to McKinsey, for example two-thirds of consumers use their values to determine their buying behavior. Another study tells us that 77% of consumers prefer to buy from companies that share their values. Other polls show that most people support DEI and that number is growing. Neutrality is therefore not a good option.
So, given all this, how can today’s CEOs safely navigate their brands in the midst of loud, heated, divisive controversies? As a DEI strategist, here’s my simple, two-part advice.
Listen to the signals and not the noise.
To better understand what I mean, let’s first look at the meaning of the terms signal and noise. In electronic communications“signal” refers to the meaningful information or data being sent or received. It represents vital information. The term ‘noise’, on the other hand, refers to random disturbances that disturb the quality of a signal during transmission or reception. So, for example, if you are listening to a radio station in an area with many trees and mountains, the music or the announcer’s voice is the signal and the crackling sound produced by reverberating signals and interference that make it difficult to hear the announcer or the music. would clearly be the sound.
So what are the signals in the current social and business landscape regarding DEI? I would argue that the fact that, according to the US Census, by 2045 the majority of the population of the United States will be consisting of former minorities. Here’s another fact. Companies that are effective in DEI already earn more than companies that are not 35%. And here’s a third signal: According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, these more diverse companies deserve more 19% more sales from innovation. Add it all up, and here’s what these signals tell us: The 21st century workforce and marketplace will become increasingly diverse, and we’re already seeing a positive economic impact for companies embracing DEI that will only grow as we continue this transformation. So the signals here tell us that DEI is currently an economic performance multiplier that will become even more powerful as we move deeper into the increasingly diverse 21st century. Everything else is just noise.
Organizations would have to abandon the old rule of neutrality and please everyone in order to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s increasingly diverse and divisive society. Instead, focus on your true values.
After you take a stand, stay firm.
Let’s take a look at some recent Bud Light news. Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser’s brewer, experienced declining sales. To reach a wider customer base, including women and younger adults, they ran a promotion featuring transgender social media star Dylan Mulvaney. The commercial sparked a boycott and controversy among some customers. The company’s response was slow and indecisive. The company’s latest communications sought to appease the vocal consumer while adhering to the new marketing objectives. Ultimately, Bud Light sales volume declined by more than 28% compared to last year.
Compare this with response from Nike and results in 2018 when they ran ads featuring controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick, sparking outrage and leading to burning Nike boots and rioting against the company. Nike didn’t run away. They leaned in, saw sales up 10% and made money $847 million.
The message here is: don’t try to give in to dissenters after choosing to pursue the progressive market of the 21st century. Be like Nike and not like Bud Light. Embrace the future and let go of the past. After taking an informed and sincere position, inform the opposing consumers that while you understand their preferences, this is your company’s position.
In conclusion, business leaders should prioritize positions guided by signals, not extreme noise. They must anticipate and embrace setbacks, refusing to back down. It’s time to accept that customers seeking a return to the past cannot be held back as they pursue a forward-thinking 21st century market. Organizations must give up neutrality and the search for universal approval to thrive in our increasingly diverse and currently divided society. Instead, prioritize real values and growing markets and reject worthless indulgence. Communicate your honest point of view to opposing consumers, acknowledging their preferences while remaining steadfast in your company’s position. Action and authenticity are the keys to success.