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How Consumers Want Brands to Respond to the Racial-Justice Movement

During a pivotal moment for the country, consumer feedback is offering franchisors valuable insights into what actions customers expect to see from their favorite brands.

The ongoing protests that arose in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer and the resulting political unrest have been at the forefront of the world’s mind for the past few weeks. While it's too soon to say what exactly will come from this moment, it does feel like a turning point, and many of the country's most high-profile franchise brands — often averse to weighing in on social issues — are realizing that silence is no longer an option. CEOs at franchise chains including Chick-fil-A, McDonald's and Taco Bell have released statements in recent days supporting protests.

There are still many questions facing franchise brands in the wake of this movement. Not just whether or not to speak up, but how to do so. Should brands ask franchisees? Release a statement? Take to social media? Update their website? Send out a mass email? Should the response be unit-level or company-wide? While no brand wants to be perceived as oblivious to the concerns of their consumers and franchisees, brands also don’t want to run the risk of appearing to commercialize a tragedy or co-opt a movement. 

According to an article on FSRMagazine, insights company Sense360 fielded a survey from June 3–June 4 asking consumers of a variety of ethnicities to identify how recent protests impacted them and their shopping behaviors, how they believe companies should react and what effect that would have on their purchasing habits. For example, in terms of foot traffic, 45% of people with a protest in their area said their shopping behaviors were in some way impacted, whether it be because they wanted to avoid going outside or because a nearby store was closed. 

For franchisors deciding how to navigate the racial conversation taking place across the nation, the survey offers valuable insights into what consumers want to see. 

According to the survey, consumers, first and foremost, “need to know that the brands they support are taking action, via public statements and efforts to improve communities. Both can improve brand perceptions or lock in already loyal sentiments.”

The survey goes on to break down the types of response that consumers want to see the most, displaying how various acts would positively impact the perception of a brand on a scale from one to five. For example, 33% of those surveyed said they would respond “very positively” to brands volunteering to help clean up after the protests. 

29% of respondents said they would respond “very positively” to their favorite brands issuing a statement calling for system wide changes to end racial injustice. 23% said that seeing their favorite brands donate a percentage of proceeds to equality or racial injustice programs would impact their perspective very positively.

Moreover, 24% of those surveyed noted that they would like to see brands announce changes to their own company practices to promote inclusiveness and diversity, while 23% said they would like to see brands issue a statement of concern calling for peace/unity, but not side with any group or political position.

22% would respond very positively to brands issuing a statement expressing support for law enforcement personnel and first responders, and 19% would like to see brands share and promote content created by activities directly involved in the cause.

By far, the least favorable response for those surveyed is staying silent on the issue except for expressing a commitment to listen, with only 8% noting that their opinion of a brand would be positively impacted and 9% specifically noting that it would be “very negatively” impacted — the highest negativity rating out of all responses. 

This survey continues by looking at how each response could play out across demographics. According to the article, on the most and least popular actions, there was a high level of consensus, but others vary by the ethnicity of the respondent. For example, “Non-Caucasian respondents favored sharing content created by activists directly involved and donating to equity programs, while Caucasian respondents tended to be more interested in statements calling for unity without political undercurrent.” 

For any franchisor who wants to see real-world examples of how statements and marketing from other brands have been received during the protests, AdAge published a particularly valuable resource last week — a regularly updated list of statements from brands that documents how the marketing world at large is responding to protests.

Still, moving forward, simple statements may not be enough. In regards to some brands coming out with broad statements on how their company doesn’t tolerate racism, Justin Butler, a Duck Donuts and Rita’s Italian Ice franchisee in Minnesota, told Franchise Times, “I don’t know if any company tolerates racism, so to some extent, it’s not necessary to make those statements. It’s more necessary to think about actions companies can take and their impact on certain populations.”

Overall, there is no doubt that these tumultuous times in the United States are affecting consumers’ lives and how they interact with their favorite brands. Moving forward, listening to consumer and franchisee feedback will become an invaluable tool as franchisors try to plan the best approach.