Should your brand take a stand on political or social issues?
No matter where your politics fall on the ever-expanding and constantly shifting political spectrum, there is one thing that we can (maybe?) agree on: We are living in truly divided and hostile times. While politics can make for awkward silence at family dinners and curt phone calls, it also has an impact on your brand, whether you want it to or not.
In recent memory, the internet has exploded with videos of people cutting up and burning their Nike apparel and tossing Keurig machines out the window. The reason? Well, these two brands made their political leanings known and took a side on a current event. Is this smart? It depends. Studies show that a majority of consumers believe it’s important for a brand to take a stand on social or political issues. And this makes sense. Consumers, especially the Millennial generation, want to support brands that share their values.
However, before you (and your brand) choose the hill you’re willing to die on, there are a few things you should consider:
Understand the strength of your brand.
When you take a stand or champion a cause (politically, socially, etc.), it’s not a matter of if you’re going to upset people; it’s a matter of how many people are going to get upset. Even if the majority of consumers want brands to take a stand, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re going to agree with the chosen stance. So can your brand take the hit or handle the backlash without incurring losses it can’t overcome? If the answer is “no,” it may be best to remain neutral (like most brands) when it comes to politics and social issues.
Be smart and pick your spots.
Jumping into the fray may not be the right move for your brand unless, say, you’re Nike and you can play the long game, deal with the short-term backlash and, ultimately, reap the rewards of your decision. Chances are, your brand isn’t iconic (most aren't) and doesn’t have a global reach (most don’t). Instead, think about your brand values and how you can best represent them with your public statements and stances. This also requires sincerity. If you do take a stand on an issue, you want to do it because of genuine belief and not because something is trending or a hot button issue at the moment (right, Pepsi?).
Be sincere… and make an impact.
As a brand, taking a stance doesn’t mean needlessly diving into the crucible, but you don't want to be seen as indifferent either. Making your values known can be as simple as supporting a local cause that your brand identifies with. This is more honest and authentic than jumping into whatever political wildfire is taking over Twitter. It’s also more likely that your audience will react better to your support of local causes (and is probably less likely to have an issue with your brand making a statement). Can you jump on the Colin Kaepernick controversy? Sure. But you’ll have a better shot at affecting change on the local level by supporting your community and initiatives in your area.
Know your consumer demographics.
This is basic audience awareness and comes from having done your research on the people who interact with your brand. Take Nike for example. Nike knows its audience is younger, more liberal, urban and likely to view the Kaepernick ad favorably. The ad was probably less of risk for Nike than it appeared to be from outside the company. Simply put, Nike read the room. And you should too, or risk alienating your customers. You certainly don’t have to pander to your audience’s beliefs, but you also don’t want to piss them off. That’s, umm, marketing 101 right there, friends.
This isn’t intended to discourage brands from taking a stance. It’s important for any company to have values and to enact them, but it’s also important to act responsibly and be mindful of the potential ramifications. But with the times being as divisive and toxic as ever (and with social media giving everyone a platform), it’s important to assess the situation, the message and your audience before entering a political or social conversation. The alternative is having to issue an apology or retraction… or worse yet, irreparably damaging your brand. Remember: be true to your brand and your principles, but don’t be reckless.
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