How to take action in turbulent times

In 1991, futurist Faith Popcorn coined the term ‘vigilante consumer‘, described as someone who manipulates marketers and the marketplace through pressure, protest, and politics. It’s a notion we’re all familiar with in 2022. One we’re perhaps less familiar with though, is a vigilante Twitter bot.

That is until a few weeks ago, when the Gender Pay Gap Bot took the internet by a storm. It exposed employers celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing their “fluffy” posts alongside the real data of their gender pay gap. In response, many of the targeted businesses deleted their posts, removed hashtags, or blocked the account altogether; leading to further public scrutiny.

Such anonymous activist networks are on the rise. Around COP26 in November, climate activist group Brandalism hacked 100 billboards across the UK with a series of spoof adverts, to call out the hypocrisy of brands funding the fossil fuel industry and spur social change.

Increasingly, brands are realising they have nowhere left to hide. The temptation could be to stop engaging with social issues altogether and avoid potential backlash. But we’re in a progressively purpose driven climate, where consumers place value on brands that stand for something. So doing nothing won’t cut it.

The message is clear: action beats words. Or to the Pay Gap Bot’s point, ‘stop posting platitudes, start fixing the problem’. Here are a few pointers on how to take action and successfully navigate such turbulent waters.

1 / Be clear on what reasonable change looks like

No one is perfect – we have to use the resources that we have to do the best we can. This applies as much to businesses as it does to people. Being clear on what reasonable change looks like for your business, based not only on the change you can effect but also what matters most to your customers, can provide the focus you need to take action.

2 / Be transparent about your imperfections to drive trust

Sustainable and ethical claims can be manipulated and many brands have – whether rightly or wrongly – been accused of greenwashing. In this context transparency and authenticity are more important than ever. Brands such as Innocent are well aware of this, claiming outwardly that “We’re not perfect by any means. We make mistakes, reflect on our experiences and try again”.

3 / Help your customers to be better too

Togetherness is key in this fight – meaning less finger pointing and more co-creation. Businesses that foster a sense of collaboration with consumers to tackle key issues will build stronger relationships and act as a fulcrum for change which communities may otherwise lack.