Brands have a lot to gain by speaking out. Consumers, Generation Z and especially millennial consumers, expect companies to use their wealth and influence to help with social problems. A part of a brand’s social media strategy should include the company’s stand on at least one social or political issue to appeal to the socially conscious consumer. Companies can draw attention to causes, and because they can, a growing number of consumers feel that they should do so with sincerity.
Taking a stand only works out well for a brand when they appear credible to consumers. Factors that influence how credible brands appear include:
- Choosing issues affects the brand’s customers or employees
- Brand is located in or close to where the issue occurs
- Brand has traditionally stood up for similar issues
- CEO speaks out about the issue
The CEO and other executives have to commit to taking a stand publicly, a company press representative or a PR company talking about a company’s stance isn’t nearly as credible.
Ethical sourcing shows consumers that a company cares about worker exploitation and child labor. Consumer education about poor working conditions at manufacturers in countries like Cambodia and Indonesia is often necessary; social media is the preferred platform. Once a brand shows how they source their products, they become part of the solution for ending the exploitation that is common in overseas garment supply chains, mining and farming operations.
Co-opting a Cause
Brands can’t co-opt a cause and use it to sell their products; it angers consumers. Pepsi found this out when they used the Black Lives Matter movement to send the message that their soft drink promotes unity when delivered by a reality TV star. Pepsi could weather the storm, but a smaller brand could polarize consumers and never recover.
Social issues often are safer to support than political causes. People disagree about who should be president, but there are social issues that most people agree are worth supporting, including:
- Ending childhood hunger in the U.S.
- Global human rights
- Pet adoption
- Ending poverty
These are examples of causes that consumers feel that brands should take a stance on, especially if the cause directly relates to their business.
While consumers support brands that they agree with by purchasing their products, they boycott brands that they do not agree with. Target stood up for LGBT rights by saying that transgender persons could use the fitting room for the gender that they identify with, angering some customers and earning praise from others.
While it’s natural for CEOs and boards to want to avoid any hot-button issues that may alienate customers, doing nothing isn’t an option anymore. The public knows that the government is not solving social issues; they hope corporations can do more.
By taking a stand that resonates with their target audience, companies increase their social media mentions, built brand loyalty