The country is in an uproar with all the protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd. While what's happening may seem like a social justice issue, brands cannot afford to stay on the sidelines.

Your customers, particularly your Black customers, want to know whether the brands they spend their hard-earned dollars on are for them. They want to know that your brand cares about them as people, not just as customers.

Business is about belonging. And for your customers to feel like they belong with you, you have to demonstrate that you see them, you value them, and you care about the fundamental issues that concern them, especially when they are being treated unjustly.

As I've perused my social channels over the past week, I've seen numerous comments such as this one, which captures the critical need for brands to speak up:

This is the first time in my life where I started pulling up on social to see what side of history the people I follow stood on. Those who aren't saying anything, that's all I needed to hear. It can't be business as usual when there is an assault on a segment of the American population. 

Don't stay silent. Here are some quick guidelines to help you along as you craft your response to this growing movement and pivotal point in history.

1. Acknowledge the injustices that have negatively impacted the Black community.

We can't begin to fix the problem until we recognize that it exists. 

Target did it by naming those whose senseless killings occurred in the past few months

The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts.

At a minimum, simply say the words "Black Lives Matter." Here's how Netflix did it on their Instagram feed:

2. Be clear about the actions your brand is taking.

Social media posts and email broadcasts are a great first start--but they're just a start. You have to demonstrate your commitment to making positive change by working to advance the cause.

Donating to organizations doing important work to dismantle systemic racism, ensuring that your own workforce is diverse, and making your marketing efforts inclusive are all great ways to do so.

Later Media, a social media scheduling app, was very clear about the steps it is taking:

3. Be a part of the ongoing dialogue.

People--both your team members and your customers--are hurting. One of the ways that people work through their pain is by talking about it. 

Provide opportunities for those on your staff to talk about what's going on. When you try to silence or limit these conversations to forums outside of your work place, you communicate that your company is not a "safe space" to tackle such important issues.

So, encourage and engage in dialogue. Hold space for those who are connected to your company. Be active in comments and discussions on social media. Organize team meetings. When possible, provide resources to help your team work through this. 

In his email to employees, Apple CEO Tim Cook encouraged communication:

For all of our colleagues hurting right now, please know that you are not alone, and that we have resources to support you. It's more important than ever to talk to one another, and to find healing in our common humanity. We also have free resources that can help, including our Employee Assistance Program and mental health resources you can learn about on the People site.

In these conversations, you don't have to advise anyone or position yourself as an expert on racial inequality. You don't have to provide solutions for all of society's problems. Just asking how people are doing, creating a safe environment for them to share, and then listening to what they have to say can work wonders. Being empathetic will almost never steer you wrong.

And if the conversation begs for answers you don't have, it's okay to admit it. Commit to working together to figure things out, and then follow through. 

Both your team and your customers need you to speak up and lead. Don't leave them hanging, or they just might leave you.

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