Brands are finding themselves on the hot seat more often these days. Anytime a social or political issue shows up in the 24-hour news feed, a growing number of consumers want brands to weigh in.
Take artisan ice cream founder and creator Jeni Britton Bauer who called out Fed-Ex for their refusal to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, as a result of the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, FL. It opened up floodgates for other brands to take a stand.
Here’s the thing though – we work hard to develop our brands. We want them to sing. We want them to connect with people. We want people to love them.
But they don’t.
Because people don’t care about brands. They don’t trust companies.
People care about people. They trust people and they want to hear from them.
But damn it do we try to make our brands seem like people. We give them personalities, because people have those. We give them voices, because, well, people. But when we realize that people also have opinions about social issues, we think why on earth would we ever have one of those about any of that?
We think “We can’t afford to alienate people by taking a side on social issues. If we support one cause, we’ll lose customers who oppose it. If we choose one side of the argument, we’ll lose those who disagree. We don’t want to lose customers here. We are terrified.”
When the question you should really be asking about your brand is whether it can afford to alienate even more customers by not possessing the basic humanity it takes to form an opinion.
Brands, it’s time to own what you believe in (not half way, but all the way).
It’s not enough to state your values – you have to live them.
When your audiences click on the About Us tab of your website, they’ll see what you say you believe in. But it’s not until you demonstrate them in action that they’ll believe you. We love that you believe in inclusion, or sustainability, or social justice. But we love you even more when you take a risk and fight for them.
People want to support brands that align with their values.
The brands people choose to surround themselves with can be seen as an extension of their personality, whether you’re an Adidas woman or a Whole Foods guy. They support brands that fit with their personality and their worldview. By demonstrating that you care about the issues your audiences care about, you’re making a real connection to something bigger.
Don’t guess what your audience wants you to care about. Just care.
As a company, what matters to you? What’s something that’s a true reflection of your culture? Go all in on that. You don’t have to take a side on every issue, just on the ones that intersect with what’s valuable to you as a company. Do we care what the body spray brand has to say about illiteracy? Not so much. But let’s hear what the chocolate company has to say about deforestation. Let’s find out what the athletic apparel brand has to say about body image.
If you play both sides of the issue, you just played yourself.
When you choose to weigh in on a social issue, you run the risk of losing customers who disagree with you. Which is good. They didn’t get you anyway. They don’t deserve your brand. And you’ll gain even more customers. Customers who say things like, “I’d never heard of [NAME OF SWEET, SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS BRAND] before, but if they’re down with [SOCIAL ISSUE THAT MATTERS TO ME], then I’m down with them. I’ll take multiple units of your goods and services, please.”
You’ve worked hard to develop your brand’s voice. Don’t be afraid to use it. Because when you speak to the causes and the values that your audiences care about, they’ll listen. They want to stand behind you. You just need to stand for something.