Do healthcare organizations have a voice within social movements?
As consumers we see brands make strong social or political motivated messages every day. Dove’s ever evolving body positivity campaigns. In 2016, Patagonia changed its mission statement to reinforce its commitment to environmental activism. Amazon’s advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ employees to the United States Supreme Court. And we can’t finish out this list without mentioning Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick.
In the past few years, we’ve seen more and more brands and companies join the conversations around societal issues even if they’re not an integral part of the brand’s identity. During the Times Up and Black Lives Matter movements, we saw many brands step up with messaging that reinforced their commitment to harassment-free, diverse and equitable workplaces. What we’ve learned from movements like these is that silence does more harm than good. But it can be hard for brands to decide how, and if they should, enter the conversation.
The good news for healthcare organizations is that they already have a strong sense of purpose.
The hesitation is completely understandable. The rise of the conscientious consumer has created a new trend of “purpose-led marketing” that risks falling flat. Forbes defines purpose-led marketing as “backing a cause for the sake of sales” and it is quick to remind brands that purpose-led marketing also exists in an environment in which those same conscientious consumers will have no hesitation in ridiculing inauthentic brands across review sites and social media.
Using purpose-led marketing in healthcare
In the most recent Black Lives Matter response to the death of George Floyd, we saw a range of responses from healthcare organizations. Some joined the conversation immediately with brand level messages that reinforced their commitment to diversity and racial equality. Some were a little slower to participate on a brand level, instead letting their employees and staff participate on the organization’s behalf in gestures like #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives. Others still, continued without any such statements or gestures.
The good news for healthcare organizations is that they already have a strong sense of purpose. While not all healthcare organizations will have the same mission and values verbatim, the thesis of the messages are similar- provide care, healing and wellness. This message can easily become the foundation of a social motivated message.
The main challenge we see is most healthcare organizations often have very conservative perspectives and can be quick to avoid anything controversial for fear of backlash, public relations capacities, or the need for political neutrality.
If your healthcare organization is struggling to find its voice among social movements, consider these 5 factors.
Does your healthcare organization’s core mission and values align with the movement’s message? If so, then it would make sense for the organization to show support for the movement because it’s a part of the brand’s purpose. However, it has to be an active part of the brand not just a sentence in the employee handbook. Using the example of racial equality, does the organization not only have diversity values but also active and healthy initiatives in place to support BIPOC employees and foster their successes? If the answer is ‘Yes,’ contributing your organization’s voice to the Black Lives Matter movement may reinforce the organization’s commitment to diversity. If the answer is ‘No,’ then it’s not appropriate to make a statement and it may make things worse. As we’ve seen in other industries, past and current employees will be quick to call out false or inauthentic messages of support.
Social movements are complex, especially those involving politics, and issuing statements or messaging in support of them may come across as a full-fledged political endorsement. When speaking as a Brand, the messaging does not have to be all or nothing. It may be more appropriate to address specific points of a social conversation rather than trying to address the entire movement.
After thoughtful reflection, some organizations may see that they are not meeting the standards being requested by the social movement, consumers or community. That does not have to be the end of conversation, instead it can be the beginning of a new one. Use the opportunity to address the opportunities for improvement and how the organization will work to address them. Alternatively, if your organization’s missions and values do match the movement message and a statement is made, be prepared to answer questions about how the organization is meeting standards for change and speak to any resources available for affected communities.
Despite their lasting impacts, social movements and their responses can happen very quickly. If your organization decides to make a statement, make it quickly to position yourselves as the thought leaders. It doesn’t have to be perfect, authenticity is important, and often messages evolve as the movement continues giving brands the opportunities to expand on their initial statements. Wait too long though, and the organization risks looking like a late adopter.
As with any marketing or communication message, who you’re speaking to is as important to what you’re saying. In the past, there were clear boundaries between social justice, brand activism, marketing and public relations. Today, according to a 2018 study by Accenture, 66% of consumers want to purchase from brands who stand up for issues that they are passionate about. Conscientious consumers are blurring those once clear lines and healthcare is no exception. Healthcare organizations that authentically speak up for social equalities, and have the inclusion practices to support these communities, may be sending a bigger consumer message than they think. Research shows that if given the choice, black, Hispanic, and queer patients will seek out care from black, Hispanic, and queer physicians and other healthcare providers. Naturally, those caregivers will seek employment at organizations where they feel appreciated, valued and respected.
Some conversations are worth continuing.
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