If you want to market your product ethically, you must eliminate performative behavior.
What does it mean to be performative?
Performative behavior is an insincere action taken only to elicit a response or reaction from a specific audience.
The term “performative” gained traction on social media in 2020 with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was used to call out people and brands who took small, insignificant actions in an attempt to increase social media reach without doing any of the real work.
A common example of this is when users posted a black square on their feed in order to make a statement about racism – but never moved beyond that black square when it came to creating change in their life, business, or the world.
Performative action is when you want it to look like you’re an activist, so you can fit in, sell more products, or appeal to a wider net of potential clients…but you don’t put real effort into reform.
You’re trying to benefit off the struggles of others – and in this case – Black people.
Without action, putting a sign in your yard, posting a vague infographic, or making your profile picture a black square on social media is all just for show. You’re not protesting; you’re not donating money; you’re not voting to change racist policies.
Performative Behavior In Marketing Across Various Demographics
This phenomenon is apparent among other demographics as well.
In June, brands are notorious for adding rainbows to their social profiles, hanging a pride flag outside their stores, or having “pride” sales – but how many of those brands are actually genuine in their support? How many care about change for the other 11 months of the year?
And most importantly… how many corporations are run by wealthy, homophobic shareholders who are actively voting against these minority groups and only exploiting the celebration for their own benefit?
It can be tough to tell.
Identifying How You May Be Using Performative Marketing
This is the hardest part — getting real with yourself. But, the first step toward eliminating the use of performative marketing is to start with yourself.
What can you do to ensure you’re not being performative?
This can be tough, especially for people pleasers. Personally, I tend to get worried about what other people think – which is exactly why I wanted to cover this topic!
You can’t control what other people think – you can only control your actions.
People are always going to make a judgment for themselves.
What really matters is that YOU KNOW you’re not being performative.
If you’re just venturing into the world of advocacy, it will be hard at first. Know that it will get easier the longer you are doing the work. Eventually, people will come to understand that this isn’t a performance – these are the values you stand by.
You need to be able to sit down with yourself and ask yourself:
- » Why are you doing this?
- » Do you actually agree with the statements you are making?
- » Are you just following along because it’s trendy?
…and if your answer is “it’s trendy,” that’s fine. It is. But if that is your only reason, stop.
Once you determine that’s the case; you have to start doing things differently. If you keep reading and taking further action, I think you’ll be off to a good start.
I’ve talked about performative actions and referenced the “hard work” it takes to create real change.
So, what are the steps you need to take to eliminate performative action?
What It Takes to Eliminate Performative Marketing
What exactly do I mean when I refer to “hard work?”
Ensure you understand the stories and meanings behind trends you’re sharing or participating in.
Many have ties to different cultures, and while your intentions may be innocent, the impact may hurt someone else.
I extend this to holidays – don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo if you don’t know the true meaning behind the holiday.
Vote in every election and do your best to know who you are voting for.
Ensure you can vote in the primary elections.
If you have to register with a party, then do so. This is important because not all Democrats/Republicans are created equal.
Make sure you know their stance on issues related to queer rights, reproductive rights, etc., and hold them accountable. If they are elected and don’t make good on their promises, they’ve gotta go.
Communicate with your elected officials. Their job is to represent you at the state or national level. Make sure they know what you want them to do.
Numerous organizations need donations. I have a list I recommend on my website here.
If you can’t financially make donations to charities, look at the brands you’re currently doing business with and see if they make any charitable donations.
When I did this a couple of years ago, I realized that the company I was using to schedule appointments online was not – but a competitor was.
I switched to using Calendly – a black-owned business that is doing a lot of good in the community.
You don’t have to spend more money than you already are. You just have to choose to work with companies who put it to better use.
Join a protest or demonstration. When you arrive, ensure you’re listening and following directions.
In most cases, these organizations have been running for years and don’t need new voices “fixing” things. Instead, show up willing to do whatever is needed of you.
When it comes to Black Lives Matter protests, leadership will instruct whether white people should go to the front (forming a barrier between police and Black protesters) or if they should fall back and allow the Leadership to be front and center.
White people can respond to chants – but do not lead them.
Pay Fair Wages.
When you’re hiring for your business, ensure you’re hiring diverse people at all levels – including leadership roles.
You pay according to experience and skill, not outside factors.
You continue to advocate for important causes even when they’re not trending.
Don’t be overwhelmed! Just pick the easiest one (notice I didn’t say easy) and start there.
As you grow, so will how you are actively working towards social justice and change.
You got this!
Ethically Marketing Your Product Begins With Small Steps
Don’t pose as inclusive if you’re not participating in helpful action and if you aren’t in it for the long run.
Whenever you speak up about something you believe in, you need to follow through and continue the support like your brand did in the beginning.
Don’t worry about judgment! It’s okay if others think you’re being performative, especially initially. Just ensure that YOU know that you’re doing things for the right reasons. Do the hard work, and your actions will make a difference.
Just Marketing™: A Podcast For Equity-Centered Marketers & Entrepreneurs
Want to learn more about how to market your business ethically? Check out the Just Marketing™ Podcast, where we dive deep into how to promote your business to prioritize accessibility & inclusivity, value people over profit, and evaluate all campaigns/strategies through an equity-centered lens.