In these tumultuous times, prompted by the effects of a contentious election and new administration, surprising and often unheard voices have united to ignite hearts and spirits — those of corporate America.
I’m co-president of 214, a NYC branding and communications agency that focuses on ‘brands with heart’ — as clients, and as our own mission. To us, brands with heart are diverse and many. They include the Warby Parkers and TOMS Shoes of the world, with their phenomenal social impact programs. Others effect change in a different way, like our client Live in the Grey, through creating authentic, heart-led workplaces. In the wake of the refugee ban, a whole new category of brands with heart has come into play: brands willing to stand for what they believe to be right, and that which is values-aligned.
In the weeks after it was signed, over 100 tech companies filed on the unconstitutionality of the executive order. They accurately cited business impact as a concern, since the order would cause “a sudden shift in the rules governing entry into the United States, and is inflicting substantial harm on U.S. companies,” according to the court document. But it was not simply business interests that drove the filing. It was a matter of heart.
So many leaders have given voice and taken action because people’s lives and liberties — their employees and others — have been threatened. It has been nothing short of phenomenal to witness these leaders holding to their personal and company values by standing against Trump’s refugee ban. Not only have they made strong public statements, but emotional ones too. When Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced their plan to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next 5 years, it was stated as a values issue in a company-wide email titled “living our values.” Similarly, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky offered to open the site’s homes — and heart — to affected refugees in need of shelter. It came from that same space of — dare I say it? — love.
The list of actions taken to express both solidarity and support goes on and on. Countless leaders from varied industries have taken a stance, from Google’s Sergey Brin showing up at the SFO protest on Sunday, to Lyft’s cofounders contributing $1MM to the ACLU, to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings lamenting that Trump’s actions ‘pain us all.’ Again, speaking through the lens of emotion, not purely business interest. And the always-impressive SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff distilled this heart-felt emotion with his call to remember our collective humanity in his tweet:
‘When we close our hearts & stop loving other people as ourselves (MK 12:31) we forget who we truly are — -a light unto the nations.”
Major companies haven’t been the only ones speaking up. Brands both big and small have showed this heart. One experience in particular comes to mind, as it hit close to home for me. During my ride home from work, I used my favorite New York City car service, Via ($5 from Soho to Harlem, anyone?), when I received an email from the brand. They offered free legal service to affected drivers and riders, because “We’re all Via-istas, and we all ride together.” I chat to Via drivers frequently en route, consistently impressed by the praise and love they have for the company, and its respectful treatment of its employees. I buy what they do, but I also buy — and support — why they do it.
I have been blown away by the steps and risks taken by all of these companies. Not just because of the courage it takes to stand up for what you believe, and to bear any potential economic repercussions for those actions, but because these brands showed themselves for what they truly are — empathic, relevant, brands with heart.