Along with the media and opinionated friends across social, some of our biggest brands are now jumping into political conversations. It would seem as though Politics is no longer just a politician’s game! Many brands have also struggled to navigate today’s most controversial conversations while others that step up to make bold statements are hoping to turn potential risks into business opportunities.
Audacious political statements by brands can be a huge success. Airbnb released a campaign in Australia during the vote for marriage equality, that introduced what they called an acceptance ring. The ring had a gap to represent the gap in marriage equality. The company encouraged people to wear the ring during the vote. Not only did Airbnb become the most talked about brand in Australia, more than 150,000 rings were sold and there were more than 2 million relevant shares on social media, culminating in a 98% positive reaction to the campaign.
Social media is being leveraged by many social and political movements to capture followers and to force brands to take a stand. The challenge for brands is that the dynamic interaction between consumers and brands online is the huge upside of cultivating social networks and it also does what no other marketing platform has done before, it provides direct access to brands and their audiences. Those audiences have the ability to keep issues alive for a long time which makes it difficult for brands to stay silent like they have in the past and treacherous if their positioning is off target for their audience.
Following the devastating mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, more than 20 companies cut ties with the NRA as a direct response in an effort to create gun control change. Those that didn’t, received backlash on social media and threats of boycotting their company such as with Delta Airlines. Within 12 hours Delta went from defending their choice to maintain a relationship with the NRA, to having them publicly remove any association.
In a recent study conducted by Sprout Social, “66 percent say posts from brands rarely or never influence their opinions on social issues. Rather, respondents believe brands are more effective on social media when they announce donations to specific causes (39 percent) and encourage followers to take specific steps to support causes (37 percent), such as participating in events or making their own donations.” However, people still feel C-suite members have a duty to speak up. And they especially want CEOs to use their voices — 59 percent of respondents say it’s important for CEOs to engage with consumers and followers on social and political issues on social media.
What’s more, social media is the best place for this to happen in 2018. Compared to other primary communication channels like TV, phone, and blogs, the largest number of consumers are receptive to brands communicating their positions/values on social media. In fact, 61% say it’s important for brands to take stands on social media specifically.
According to a recent poll by Morning Consult, depending on the audience some topics make bigger waves than others. Democrats are influenced to purchase a product or service if a company supports efforts to reduce climate change (65 percent), and similarly (63 percent) said they’re willing to do the same for a company that donates to Planned Parenthood. Republicans, by contrast, are less likely to purchase from a business that calls President Donald Trump a “racist” (61 percent) or supports transgender individuals’ use of the restroom of their choice (57 percent).
It’s clear that social media is making it increasingly difficult for brands to stay silent on issues. Recognizing a few simple action items can help mitigate a brand messaging hazard.
● Understand your Brand. Brands that jump on the bandwagon with a politically popular message that doesn’t resonate will be at best ignored and at worst ridiculed. Articulating core values and adding the humanity to express the brand essence is paramount to ultimately resonate with consumers.
● Understand your customer. Smart brands go beyond the ‘typical’ demographics and cast a wider net to understand what drives their customers, what they need, and how their brand can align with those needs. When you connect your brand’s humanity with your consumers’ needs, the message may resonate and make an impact.
● Continue To Do more. Consumers are expecting more from brands corporate responsibility actions. Brands that give back, share their profits, — consumers will favor them. The hand of goodwill from a company that does more than foster its shareholders is an effectual consumer motivation.
Ultimately, consumers look for a direct connection between brands and the issues to which they are lending their voices. But instead of getting political or taking a side on highly-charged social issues, brands can demonstrate that they have a conscience by building their initiatives and marketing campaigns around core values and causes that just about everyone can get behind.