Reward over Risk: On Brands & Social Advocacy

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With a unique set of personality traits, core values and sense of purpose, successful brands today have begun to resemble living entities. In other words, brands have become more human in the way they behave and express themselves. 

Being human comes with both the opportunity and the obligation, at times, to have a voice on issues of social and political significance. In fact, audiences will likely continue to demand more and more that businesses not sit idly by in such matters. 

One report states that two-thirds of consumers (66%) say it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues. For the coveted millennial base, this statistic is even higher – Nielsen reported in 2015 that 81% of millennials expect their favourite companies to make public declarations of their corporate citizenship.

This being said, there’s a fine line between taking a considered stance on an important issue, and merely jumping on the proverbial wagon. When is it appropriate to have a say and how do you decide? 

It’s a question that’s becoming more pertinent day by day with the rise of AI, and particularly chatbots, as the ability for brands to have one-on-one interactions with customers is scaling exponentially. And while previously, a brand could voice an opinion on Twitter or Facebook, it’s actually becoming less of a choice today. During the last US presidential campaign one of the most commonly asked chatbot questions was, point blank, “What do you think of Trump?”. 

So both the opportunity for brands to voice an opinion and the expectation from consumers that they actually have one are on the rise.

It presents a challenging but wildly interesting opportunity for a brand to express its core values and flex its personality in response to topics that are actually relevant to people. But while the reward of taking a stand usually outweighs the risk, execution will always require a high level of discretion. 

Here are three tips for authentic brand advocacy.

 

1. Ask “is this topic relevant to our organisation?”

The difference between an unsolicited opinion and a credible point of view lies in whether the issue directly impacts a business’ customers, employees and/or operations. So while an ice cream company, sportswear brand and a financial institution could have equal permission to comment on marriage equality, school violence is likely off limits for a beer brand since there’s little to no connection between the two. 

 
 
 

2. Use personality dials appropriately

Personality is critical in delivering any brand-led message but requires a high level of sophistication when applied as a lens over more serious subjects. A brand with a fun or cheeky personality, for instance, can slip easily into the realm of off-putting flippancy. As a general rule, traits on the less serious end of the spectrum should be dialled down to make room for more grounded traits – like empathy and sincerity – to be dialled up.

 
 

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3. Choose the right channel and volume for the message

Generally speaking, the closer an organisation is to an issue (see tip 1), the louder they have permission to be about it. However, it should also be said that the louder an organisation is on an issue, the more responsibility it has to take some form of action on it as well. Otherwise this can be seen as merely attempting to capitalise on a viral topic. As an example, the current anti-sexual misconduct movement, being an issue that affects women everywhere is something any organisation could get behind. For the majority of brands, a message of support on social channels would be most appropriate, whereas an organisation that has actually contributed to the movement could credibly make it the focus of a bigger campaign.   

This is not to say that credibility can’t be earned through action, just that real action speaks louder than copy. Brands should talk about what they’re actually doing, otherwise it’s just that – talk. 
 

 
 
 

By Hilary Smith, Senior Account Manager at Re|Sydney.