Brew’s Richard Harper sounds a cautionary note against pressures for brands to be part of every conversation: standing for everything might really mean you stand for nothing.
Brand strategy has traditionally been about connecting with audiences on an emotional level, but now consumers expect brands to consider their social and cultural impact too. Brands need to be asking themselves ‘what is our purpose?’ and ‘what do we stand for?’, and then convey that – all while staying authentic, of course.
Meanwhile, in the hyper-connected world of social media, there is now minimal friction between thought and message proliferation. This is great for brands whose image is about reacting quickly, riffing on the zeitgeist, and having a tongue-in-cheek approach to your social presence.
Back in the 2010s, when social media was new (and dare I say fun?) it was relatively safe to take a risk; everyone was in the same boat and finding out how it all worked. Now, in the mature, saturated and increasingly divisive social sphere, brands need to be hyper-aware of what they’re putting out, and the second-order effects of their comments.
That’s a lot to keep track of. And, instead of achieving it, we are seeing brands succumb to the urge to quickly and thoughtlessly push out messages in response to social events, to the detriment of their brand.
The impact of over-opinionating
It might feel good to take a stance, but is your brand ready for the backlash – from both your audience and wider social critics? Do you have buy-in from all levels of management? How will your staff react? That quick, pithy message of support can quickly become a PR drama – is that something you need when you could instead focus on your product or service? While it might seem like a ‘quick win’, brands ultimately need to ask themselves: is it worth the distraction?
Is it authentic?
This question should be at the forefront of your mind with all communications and decisions, especially when you’re participating in a social or political issue.
We’re seeing growing criticism of ‘rainbow washing’, where brands change their icons and marketing materials to rainbows in support of Pride month, without doing anything to support the LGBTQ+ community at any point throughout the rest of the year. The critics are (rightly) questioning why brands feel the need to insert themselves into a conversation where they otherwise show no interest. It’s seen as insincere and opportunistic to capitalize on the celebration (and struggles) of marginalized communities, so why do it if it doesn’t resonate with your beliefs in a meaningful way?
Are you alienating your audience?
By taking a firm stance on a contentious issue, you risk alienating a subsection of your audience who holds opposing views. Increasingly, we see backlashes against brands who express any opinion. This can lead to your customers switching to other brands, criticism in the press, and even coordinated boycotts. There’s very little evidence to suggest that taking a strong social stance improves sales.
The risk of brand dilution
Your brand has been built on a set of core values, messages, and purpose. You will have worked to cultivate that over time, building trust with your audience who know what you stand for and what to expect.
Just as you wouldn’t introduce new products and services that diminish your brand, you shouldn’t introduce new messaging that runs counter to your principles. You always need to think about what you’re known for, what your customer composition is, and what they expect from you. Your messaging needs to serve their needs, not leave them confused. Jumping on every social or political issue may feel important morally, but from a business position it risks becoming noise that detracts and distracts from your core messaging.
Have opinions you truly stand behind
This isn’t to say that your company must stay silent on every issue. If your organization has positioned itself as an active champion of a given social or political issue, then it’s wholly appropriate for you to engage in the conversations. But your brand needs to remain true to its core ethos, and save its participation for the causes it directly has a stake in. Your message should be intrinsic, not reactive to the latest hot-topic issue.
The importance of that one question can’t be overstated: what is your purpose? Constantly circle back to this when you’re weighing up the decision to offer an opinion on an issue. Does commenting meaningfully add to the conversation? Is it authentic to your brand to have an opinion on the topic, and is it necessary? Standing for everything may ultimately mean you stand for nothing.
Consumers expect authenticity from messaging and will quickly rebuke you if they feel you aren’t authentic. Be purposeful with your messaging, and leverage your expertise to push for meaningful change in areas your customers are passionate about. Be thoughtful, compassionate and genuine when you do decide to speak out. This is not only the safe option from a brand perspective; it will also have the most impact long-term.
This article first appeared on thedrum.com
Guest Authors: Rich Harper | Head Of Digital Marketing Services