In the past few months, it has become abundantly clear that all brands (whether industry leaders or not) must lead with a clear, purpose-first approach. In fact, if brand purpose is not a permanent part of your go-to-market strategy, it is likely that your organization will pay dearly.
Why is that? In my opinion, corporations/brands, and especially sports leagues, have become some of the most powerful entities in our country as others lose their influence, such as the church and government. These groups pump money into local economies as well as influence government policies at city, state, federal and even global levels. This is incredible (and unprecedented) influence as well as clout and consumers are not blind to it. They see and understand the power these organizations possess and as a result expect them to use it for positive impact.
I can think of few entities that have understood — and demonstrated — that influence more powerfully than the NBA. What should brands be taking away from their words and their deeds? Look no further than the recent NBA playoff boycotts and the ongoing Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests and contrast it with how the NFL responded (during what seems like a lifetime ago) to the Colin Kaepernick-led, “take a knee” protest. The NBA made it clear they understood that brands can no longer behave indifferently regarding social issues that impact the very consumers who made their brands great.
The NBA’s response to its players’ decision not to play was all about supporting the players — clearly their most important asset. The NBA is leading with empathy. Having and showing empathy has never been more important. The Association understands that sure, LeBron James is a global mega-superstar and makes millions, but he is a Black man first. Neither he nor his family and friends are immune to the daily racial injustices occurring against Black people in the United States.
And LeBron is not the only one — this is true for a great many of the NBA’s players. Most of these players have personal stories to share of their own. Many of them have experienced racial profiling by police and racist acts committed by white people. I’m sure they know someone who was a victim of police harassment while shopping at the mall in white neighborhoods. I’m equally sure they know of people from their old neighborhoods who were killed by police during routine traffic stops. I know I do.
The NBA (and its players) recognize they are more than just a business. They are a platform. My guess is there is a good chance these same players who chose not to play in those playoff games would be out in the street protesting and fighting for change alongside everyone else. But they’ve been blessed with a much greater platform to fight from — professional basketball. The players decided to use their global platform for “purpose” first — money and wins or losses could wait. They chose not to “entertain” nor participate in activities that would distract the nation from addressing the crimes against humanity taking place. Instead, they chose to leverage their influence to drive conversation and more importantly, foster empathy, as well as to seek understanding. They aren’t going to just “shut up and dribble” as some have suggested they do and I for one am sure glad that they didn’t.
Fears over the coronavirus pandemic, outcries over police brutality and the change being brought about by the BLM movement have impacted communities, businesses, employees and consumers around the world. It’s all overwhelming and can create an environment of instability for some.
Even with these challenging issues, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to step up and lead, and gain loyal customers along the way.
Take the NBA’s lead. Rethink your marketing and communications strategies to ensure you’re leading with a purpose that matters to your consumers first. Showing empathy and being active in matters that impact your customers is a great way to develop trust and ultimately loyalty.
The truth is, the NBA was starting to lose fans, and maybe starting down the path of less relevance. Not anymore. They have sure caught my attention and most importantly, recaptured my loyalty. I highly doubt I am the only one.
Well played, NBA. Well played.
Chief Executive Officer