When a brand finds itself caught in the crossroads of a social, cultural, or political crisis, what is the proper response? Is it a better option to ride it out and remain silent, or does a brand have some kind of responsibility to take a stand, and/or illuminate it’s position on the social issues of the day.
While most brands are naturally reluctant to enter political discussions, many consumer-facing brands have difficult choices to make when issues like the state of race relations, racial violence, and police brutality become more than mere politics in our society… as they have now in America.
- For example, in the past several months alone, we’ve seen major brands like Wendy’s, and multi-sponsor organizations such as NASCAR, navigate the unfortunate and unexpected public-facing conditions of racially-charged events.
We can assume that companies of all sizes, and brands in every sector, are likely to (sooner or later) find themselves managing some manner of address to the social and cultural events of the day. In other words, at some point in the future, silence may no longer be an option for your brand. How will you and your brand navigate that?
The trick to navigating your brand along the controversial issues of 2020 (and beyond) is not merely to deploy a well-intended campaign of social tactics. Resist doing merely that. The trick is to do the hard work of identifying your brand’s (or your company’s) fundamental values and then to commit to the daily advancement of those values.
An authentic commitment to a well-identified set of meaningful values can be a brand’s most encompassing response to manu of the ever-evolving issues of the day.
- Ben & Jerry’s (as an example) believes in operating their company in a way that recognizes the central role that business plays in society by advancing ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.
This is what they are about at that company beyond making ice cream. An authentic commitment to that approach allows the company to respond to events with their values. Their customers know it and have come to expect it, so it frees them from worrying about the right tactics and responses to the social justice developments of any given day.
It doesn’t take major resources to effectively project a brand’s support for the causes and the ideas it believes in, but one must apply a genuine and authentic voice in communicating a brand’s message. The consistency of that authentic projection engenders genuine trust.
Accept that no brand is likely to always please every single customer. There will be critics, but know that sharing your brand’s values is important. When speaking out about social issues, consider the following:
- Think about the appropriate channels: Social media can be an ideal place to show your customers the character qualities of your brand, but you may also consider including this in your brand’s email newsletter campaigns.
And wherever possible, find ways to align and connect with a cause that complements your brand’s civic values and it’s focus on supporting the pursuance of racial and social justice.
Consumers and employees want to know that brands are paying attention to the issues of the day and furthermore that they will not tolerate inequality, violence, and prejudice.
What if my company, or our brand, suddenly becomes unexpectedly embroiled in some highly-visible social justice event or controversy?
A brand-value communications approach is an excellent way to navigate your brand’s commitment to its values across its social channels, but how does one approach a response to an unexpected event which one’s company decides must be addressed?
The first thing to consider is whether the company is responsible, or somehow directly linked, to the event. If there’s a direct connection in any way, then the public rightfully expects an appropriate response from the company.
If the company bears no responsibility for the event, it then must consider whether its customers are likely to expect a response anyway. The determining factors in this case are:
- the company culture of the brand,
- the brand’s engagement history with its own consumers,
- the potential for legal liability,
- and the intensity of media interest in the event and the company.
If you find yourselves wanting to make a statement, your social media channels are the best platforms for sharing responses with your customers.
A response should generally consist of:
- an apology (if applicable)
- a brief explanation of what’s being done to ensure the event never occurs again,
- and a reassurance that the company is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment or product for its consumers.
If it’s an unusually visible event… creating a simple 90-second video to convey the response is a viable option. The company’s CEO, or another appropriate executive, can make the video statement, but only if that executive is either media trained or a naturally effective communicator. An authentic tone delivered with sincerity and conviction by someone who can project authority and trust is ultimately the most important element of a video statement.
The company must then continue to monitor their brand’s social channels and decide when and how to best respond to the consumer comments which may appear there.
If press inquiries develop from a company’s social media response, it’s often best to respond with a brief, written statement rather than to automatically engage in personal interviews. They often, and quite easily, can prove damaging to companies in these situations.
Overall, the most important thing is to arrive at the understanding that we, our companies, our consumers, and our brands all exist together within the very same social and political structures which exist in our markets. As our society continues to evolve, brands will find fewer opportunities to remain silent, and/or neutral, in the face of some of these changes… however uncomfortable these changes may appear.
Consumers are more informed than ever, increasingly attuned to the preeminent social justice issues of the day, and better equipped with the ability (often a hand-held ability) to mount a public challenge to our brand’s character. Their expectations as consumers have shifted and their brand loyalty is never completely assured.
It’s time for companies to create and vet out some thinking, human care, and business consideration – inside their cultures and among their consumers – in anticipation of that specific moment when silence no longer remains an option for your brand.