In 2016 Apple did something remarkable and rather innovative. It came out against an anti-LGBT bill under consideration in the North Carolina legislature.
This was the latest–and arguably most significant–stand the company has taken in its growing activism campaign for LGBT rights. While the law itself had no direct impact on its business, the brand activism demonstrated by Apple makes one thing clear: Companies are starting to recognise that their customers care not only about what they sell but also about what they stand for, and taking stances on social, cultural, and political issues.
This trend is hardly limited to Cupertino, or even to technology companies. Other corporate powerhouses, including Salesforce and Bank of America, were similarly quick to condemn the North Carolina legislation. What’s worth noting in each case is how the companies tackled the issue: There were personal, passionate responses from each company’s CEO, supported by consistent messaging from communications staff across the organisation.
This kind of corporate activism has been decades in the making. Today we live in a The New Normal of Interconnectivity, Hyper-Transparency and Media Anarchy. Operating under these three overlapping dimensions has made it increasingly more challenging for businesses to engage with society and “control” how stakeholders respond. However, companies are also more aware of what their customers think. The same tools give businesses the opportunity to join issue conversations on equal footing to more traditional advocacy voices. Furthermore, these businesses increasingly aim to nurture customer relationships that are lifelong, built not just on product features but also on shared cultural values.