Consumers no longer just care about what product they’re buying: increasingly, they’re occupied with the brands that they’re buying from. What do these brands believe? What do they stand for? And—perhaps most importantly—do their beliefs overlap with my own?
The truth is that with the rise of social media, everyone has a platform. For brands—especially those with massive followings—this means that consumers view them as having a responsibility to shed light on injustice. To galvanize social change.
However, a company’s main priority is still, at the end of the day, to turn a profit. How do they take a stand without isolating part of their consumer base? Should they even be taking a stand? Here are five things brands should consider before taking a social position.
1. Keep your values consistent
Customers want brands to continue to uphold the values which may have been the reason they started following that brand in the first place. Upholding these shared values has the potential to really strengthen brand loyalty—but only when done correctly. Before taking a stance, brands need to have fully thought-out how they’ll back up their stance with real action—and they need to be prepared for their consumer base to hold them accountable.
Take Patagonia, for example—a company which has built their brand on valuing environmental sustainability. Patagonia’s consumer base continues to support the brand because they have never strayed from this value, even if it means charging high prices for their goods. Their customers trust them to both create their goods responsibly and to support other organizations whose main focus is on protecting the environment. For example, Patagonia gave their full refund ($10 million) from a federal tax cut (one they deemed irresponsible) to fight for environmental causes—the very causes that the tax cut threatened, in a purposefully ironic move. Patagonia is both taking a political stand with that announcement and following it by affecting real change with funding. It’s clear to the public that they’re a cohesive, authentic brand.
2. Social media is your friend
48% of consumers expect that brands will take their stand on social media. Why? Because they believe that’s where brands have the greatest ability to create real change. Social media creates a unique opportunity for huge brands to interact with individuals in a way that can really affect change—or at least conversation. Moreover, social media gives brands the opportunity to directly ask their consumer base what issues are most important to them. Once you’ve isolated a few key issues to focus on that overlap your brand’s and your consumer bases’ values, you’ll be able to create campaigns which will really resonate with your base, and therefore will be much more effective.
When Nike rolled out their new social media ad campaign in May 2020, following George Floyd’s murder (“For once, don’t do it. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism.”), they were met with an overwhelmingly positive response from consumers aged 16 to 49, who saw it as more empowering an authentic than 98% of other ads. Because it was published on social media it was able to be shared by other powerful brands, such as Adidas, as well as by any individual account. Moreover, Nike’s CEO afterwards sent a letter to employees informing them that Nike would commit $40 million to supporting black communities, showing that Nike really was committed to bringing about social change.
3. You must be perceived as authentic
While consumers want brands to take stands, they also know that brands know that this is what they want, and the only thing worse than silence is performative activism. How does a brand ensure they’re seen as authentic? A great way to do this is to collaborate with a well-respected nonprofit organization, or maybe a respected expert in the field you want to focus on.
LUSH, the beauty product company, has raised over $10 million with their Charity Pot campaign. The Charity Pot is a container of LUSH lotion with a picture of a charity on the top—they support over 800 grassroot nonprofits, which gives customers a choice of what cause they want to support—and all profits go to that organization. Collaborating with third-party experts will boost your brand’s credibility while also providing the nonprofit with a platform to highlight the work they’re doing.
4. Focus on impact
The entire reason consumers want brands to take a social stand is because they have large platforms and can inspire individuals to take action—big or small. Companies need to be purposeful when considering their goals. Once you’ve isolated the issue you want to focus on, you must ask yourself: why am I doing this? What am I hoping to achieve? Do we want our customers to go register to vote, or take part in a fundraiser?
Your company’s use of marketing and social media is incredibly important at this step, as it will determine whether or not you actually are able to inspire action in your consumer base. An effective advertisement has the power make or break an election: leading up to the 2020 US presidential election, countless brands encouraged their bases to register to vote, including Patagonia, Spotify, Reddit, and Under Armour.
5. Authentic brands are built from within
Customers want more than just brands to take a stand: they also want to hear what the CEO and other employees have to say. Research shows that when a CEO is transparent about their beliefs on social media, 38% of consumers will increase their brand loyalty. Furthermore, consumers believe that it’s an employees’ responsibility to say something on social media when their employer makes a decision that contradicts their brand’s apparent values.
The expectation in 2021 is for brands to take social and political stands. What will yours be?