Black, Golden, Green – The Black Panther Phenomenon

Black

The remarkable, record-breaking success of Marvel’s Black Panther movie is a historic moment. It has changed the conversation about the potential ‘black’ cultural projects have to succeed in ‘mainstream’ markets for the long term, maybe permanently. For this reason alone, the story surrounding Black Panther is even more interesting than the movie itself.

In the very same period marked by the movie’s impact, several household name businesses have contrived to make a name for themselves in ways they’d never desire and perhaps naïvely, failed to anticipate. H&M, Starbucks and Unilever have all found themselves mired in very public controversies around race – specifically, their relationships with existing and potential black customers.

Social media data practice concerns notwithstanding, the rise of connected consumers and activists is a powerful tool, whose reach and influence is still being understood – indeed, it’s still evolving. Increasingly, allies are using these platforms to spread the word about issues they care about and hold businesses and institutions to account, across borders, time zones and other traditional barriers.

Golden

This context – a historic cultural moment, combined with customers who are savvier, more demanding and better connected than ever – presents businesses with an unprecedented and daunting set of challenges. And amazing, potentially transformative opportunities. On one hand, the potential for business misjudgements and mistakes to go viral are literally as big as the world, and their impact could last for years, perhaps even threatening the profitability or existence of businesses.

Black Panther and Popcorn in Saudi Arabia

Outside a Black Panther and popcorn invitation-only screening at the King Abdullah Financial District Theatre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 18, 2018, a visitor checks out a Lexus car similar to one used in the movie, which is the first time in 35 years a commercial film is shown in the conservative kingdom (AP Photo/Amr Nabil).

On the other hand, this very same context – unprecedented, emphatic and unarguable evidence of the commercial power of a major ‘black’ cultural project, African-American spending power’s value estimated to be worth 1.2 trillion dollars, the power of social media to change social and spending habits – is a digital Klondike, or perhaps given the data-driven nature of the opportunities available, California Gold Rush might be a better metaphor.

The late, great Maya Angelou famously said: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is enduringly true for informal, incidental contact, but in the digital world, everyone has access to receipts. Now, there’s no realistic expectation of anything being forgotten – because there’s always the power to check.

But all this data-driven power also offers invaluable insights. No big business and precious few small ones have an excuse to fail to make profitable use of what’s on offer, much of it at very low cost or even free.

Green

Global black customers are a thing. A young, overly ignored, culture-leading, increasingly wealthy thing. Some businesses are born to realise the value of this, some work hard to achieve it, and some stumble across it.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter a great deal to potential black customers which category your business falls into. What does matter to them is the same as matters to every customer – treat them respectfully and consistently, and there’s a great deal of money to be made.

Can your business rise to the challenge of the Black Panther phenomenon? You’ll never know unless you try.