Branding and activism: two sides of the same coin? Just as today’s digital revolution has brought companies closer to their customers, it’s also bringing the “real world” into every company’s marketing sphere. In a global marketplace, many businesses are finding it difficult to avoid world issues like discrimination and human rights abuses. And now more than ever, customers are clamoring to hear how their favorite brands feel about the issues that matter to them the most.
That might seem counter-intuitive. After all, companies usually cater to the lowest common denominator—offending as few people as possible to capture a greater market share. But according the Edelman Earned Brand study, playing all sides is no longer enough. The Edelman study showed six in 10 people think “doing good” should be part of a brand’s DNA. Even more surprising: half of those surveyed believe that their favorite brands are more capable of solving world issues than the government itself. Either a reality TV mentality is taking over our collective consciousness—or brands really do carry a responsibility to care more—and do more—in today’s digital world.
But wait: isn’t there a risk to making a stand when it comes to politics and global “issues?” After all, politics and religion are generally banned at family holidays. What kind of fall-out would large-scale companies face when making their opinions known? According to Edelman, the real question is: What can be gained by standing up for what is right? They believe brands can gain “a stronger relationship with their customers” through shared values and action. And as we know, the new digital environment provides plenty of ways to mobilize, communicate, comment, and care when keeping the following tips in mind.
Ideally, when you make a stand, it should be one that clearly aligns with your company’s mission and vision. The best companies among us have built that concept into their culture from the ground up. For those just entering the era of making noise for the greater good, it won’t be difficult to know if your stand is authentic. Just ask yourself: Would our actions surprise current employees? Future employees? When Beru Kids—a company that locally manufactures children’s clothing using organic and deadstock materials—announced it was donating 20 percent of proceeds from its “Love is Love” collection to Human Rights Campaign, it felt like a no-brainer. When your stand is authentic, it just makes sense.
Pepsi fell flat when it seemed to trivialize—and capitalize upon—our nation’s hugely important public protests when it hired reality TV star Kendall Jenner to prance around the street carrying a cola amidst beautiful smiling protesters in one of its commercials. There was such a backlash that some quipped Pepsi had succeeded in uniting our world—in hatred of Pepsi. Be careful that the stand you take is more than a marketing ploy to cash in on a global trend. Ask yourself: is this something my company will care about next week? Next year? In the next decade? Is my interest sincere? If not, it’s not your issue to undertake.
It’s OK if your company would like to save the snail population of a far-off island—but it’s not likely that cause will endear your consumers to your company. When taking a stand, it needs to be relevant—relatable—and valued by your customer base. For instance, AT&T’s “It can wait” texting campaign is one that not only speaks to its role as a phone service provider, but also speaks to every single one of us who has used our phone to text and drive.
When Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees in its global stores, it knew what it was doing. The store actively promotes ethical sourcing of its coffee beans, and has dedicated an entire section of its website to making a social impact through its work. As such, they knew their customers would embrace their stand on providing quality jobs to those who need them. On the other hand, Uber made a terrible misjudgment when it continued to offer service during a taxi strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport, in opposition to President Donald Trump’s newly imposed refugee ban. Twitter arose in collective protests with a #DeleteUber campaign, and competitor Lyft took advantage of their rival’s failure by pledging $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union. Nothing like getting kicked when you’re down.
When you know your customer base, taking a stand can absolutely endear your customers to you—but not without pushing at least a few away. Edelman’s study indicates stronger customer relationships outweigh the potential fall-out of saying nothing when presented with a moral issue. Still, as a business, you need to be prepared for the fall-out, weighing the potential for lost profits with the value of your moral compass. Companies like Chik-fil-A has remained steadfast—and successful—despite sharing sentiments that don’t always align with the public viewpoint. For an increasing number of companies, that risk appears to be worth it. After all, it’s what our customers seem to want.
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This article was first published on Forbes.