Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles under the banner: “5 problems brands come to you to solve.” The first two articles in the series, covered customer complaints and crisis communications. This next article tackles a hot-button issue: brands taking a stand.
Consumers increasingly want to buy from brands they believe reflect their personal values. Depending on the brand, and the demographic its products or services are geared toward, this can be a tricky proposition. How should a brand decide when to take a public stand?
It’s critical that comms teams know when it’s the right time — and right issue — for their brand clients to take a stance, and when and how to promote that decision.
Know your audience
Know the brand’s audience. Is it important to the target audience that the brand shares its values? Or would the selected cohort rather engage with a brand that stays neutral?
Here are some stats to consider:
- 64% of surveyed global consumers base decisions on which brands to purchase from or boycott based on political or social leanings, according to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study
- 53% of consumers expect brands to get involved in at least one social issue that is not directly related to their business, though companies are often perceived as falling short
- 56% of people say brands overuse social issues as marketing ploys
- 21% say they know from personal experience that their chosen brands keep the best interests of society in mind (2019 Edelman Trust Barometer)
Brands need to follow a well-planned strategy to ensure a public stance on social or political issues doesn’t backfire. It could easily turn into a PR nightmare if the brand is seen as trying to manipulate its audience.
“My purchase of products each week makes more of a difference than my vote every four years in the broader debate on issues such as tolerance, environment and education,” Richard Edelman writes in The Next Giant Step, an essay he wrote to accompany the release of the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report. “I want brands to stand with me.” —5 key takeaways from the 2019 Edelman brand trust survey
Gillette ran a #MeToo-inspired Super Bowl ad in 2019 that was tagged as controversial, while racking up more than 1.5 million mentions across social media and other media outlets.
“By targeting the campaign at Gen Z, per BrandTotal, Gillette might resonate with younger consumers who are known for being more inclusive and shunning outdated stereotypes, as opposed to older men, who might take greater offense at the messaging.” —Marketing Dive
The Gillette campaign unwittingly became part of another brand’s campaign, another phenomenon occurring when brands take a stand. Egard watches put out a response ad to Gillette, aimed at an entirely different audience.
The risk with this strategy? Alienating your customer base or target audience of existing and potential customers could be a huge hit for the brand’s bottom line. If it’s really off-base, it could snowball into a crisis comms situation.
But if a brand really knows its audience (or is willing to do the work to get to know them) and knows that a public stance is something that its audience craves, this strategy can deliver a big payoff. It’s the PR and comms professional’s job to lead brands through this process and ensure it’s the right move at the right time.
It’s impossible to predict perfect timing, but part of learning about — then keeping tabs on — an audience means listening to wider industry conversations that should inform timing for launching a campaign built around this strategy.
The bottom line?
This strategy takes a lot of research and has to be executed thoughtfully and with complete authenticity, or it will easily backfire. Be sure any brands you’re working with are aware of the risks involved and help them develop a strategy that amplifies their core values and speaks with their voice.