Brand Lessons from Companies That Speak out on Social Issues

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Written by Grayson Kemper, Senior Content Writer, Clutch.co

Companies can no longer safely stay out of social and political issues. According to Sprout Social, 66% of consumers say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. Additionally, a 2018 Edelman Earned Brand Study found that 59% of consumers in the United States are “belief-driven” buyers.

Some consumers now identify as “corpsumers,” meaning they consider a corporation – and its support for causes they are passionate about – as a key factor in their purchasing decision. A 2019 Clutch study found that at least half of people say businesses should support movements related to:

  • Environmental issues
  • Human rights
  • Gender
  • Politics

These expectations should translate to a clear plan of action for brands around issues most in line with brand values and audience with communication professionals taking a deep breath; taking social stances is no longer viewed as inherently risky.

Over the past two years, there have been several companies that have taken a stand on an issue to the delight of consumers. We’ll be exploring Stella Artois, Eastern Bank and The North Face, brands understood to have “got it right” and can be looked at to inspire others to bravely take a stand.

1. Aligning with a charitable cause

When you thinks of a brand who embodies activism, Stella Artois is probably not at the top of the list. Their most recent campaign bringing back characters from “Sex in the City” and “The Big Lebowski” demonstrates their balance between being culturally relevant as opposed to explicitly activist.

Their recent “Buy a Lady a Drink,” campaign, however, successfully drove awareness of the global water crisis for more than three years. The TV and online campaign, fronted by  Matt Damon, highlighted a partnership with Water.org to provide something for the third world that many of us take for granted.

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The campaign promised a month of clean water to women and families in developing countries for every limited-edition bottle purchased, and purchasing a limited-edition pack from a supermarket would provide six months of water. The campaign worked wonders by tying a pleasurable vice (drinking beer) with a noble cause (water for women and children). And the campaign’s hashtag, #POURITFORWARD, made the message easy to spread throughout social channels everywhere.

Action Step: Identify the causes your audiences care about and look for ways to tie charitable giving into actions they are already taking (or that you would like them to take)

2. Taking an explicit stand

Banking on equality has proven a powerful strategy for Eastern Bank. In 2017, Eastern Bank took an activist stance when it launched its “Join Us for Good” campaign. One of the initial focuses of the campaign was to take a strong stand for LGBTQ equality. This was a big leap of faith for Eastern, the potential to lose customers in the conservative financial world is a real concern. The company’s CEO, however, believed it was the smart and right thing to do.

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Eastern’s campaign grew to include different causes that are important to their customers, their colleagues, and the communities they serve. The campaign was successful because it both allowed Eastern to choose issues that impacted the company’s footprint and presented achievable outcomes or calls to action.

Eastern didn’t just speak out on issues—the company actually did something to make a difference that extended beyond a simple NPO donation into company infrastructure and employee benefits.

Action Step: Examine how company values are brought to life at every step of the company – and employee – journey. How can you bring these values more fully and boldly forward into your communication strategy and brand story?

3. Connect to the controversy

The controversy over the border wall championed by President Trump is a lightning rod for harsh words on both sides of the issue. When it comes to politics, many public relations agencies advice clients to be confident about how their message will land before weighing in on such a volatile topic, traditionally urging no or neutral response to limit negative brand feedback.

However, divisive issues also provide an opportunity to reiterate a company’s own politics to a like-minded audience. The North Face was able to use he controversy to promote its own community wall-building activities.

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The tweet was accompanied by a video featuring inspiring quotes from Maya Angelou, Monserrat Matehuala, Conrad Anker, and even Trump himself before he was president. The campaign worked because it was bold, extremely timely, and piggybacked upon the brand’s ongoing “Walls Are Meant for Climbing” campaign.

Mostly, the tweet endeared the brand to its liberal consumer base that applauded this type of stand.

Action Step: Audit trending topics in the media, popular hashtags and upcoming events for ways of tie-ing brand values, give-back programs and even marketing campaigns to existing media coverage and social chatter.

As experts put it, purpose is the new brand currency, and companies brave enough to speak out are the only ones able to cash in. In today’s world marked by hyper-transparency, consumers demand that the brands they love and support take a side on important social and political issues. Those same consumers avoid brands that don’t share their values.

These growing consumer expectations give more of a green light than ever before for brands to make a tangible differences for real issues, to speak out even when the topic is controversial. In doing so, companies can speak to their target audiences and foster a greater sense of loyalty, while experiencing the freedom that comes from full expression.

Grayson Kemper is a Senior Content Writer for Clutch, a B2B research, ratings, and reviews platform in Washington, D.C. Clutch provides an objective resource for companies looking for PR agencies, marketing agencies, development companies.

 

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