Being a lifestyle influencer now means much more than just being stylish or promoting the things you love. Brands can no longer rely on the merits of simply producing a good product. Nor can corporations stay above the fray when taking a stance on social and political causes through their corporate values, messaging, marketing, and actions.
Why Does Taking an Active Stance on Issues Matter to Brands?
During this highly-charged and critical time of living amidst a pandemic, dealing with racial division and political unrest, and striving to make the world a livable place, anyone with a platform is being encouraged to take a stand, speak up, and amplify others — particularly influencers and brands.
According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, a staggering two-thirds of consumers worldwide make purchases based on their beliefs, with purpose-driven brands outperforming their more conventional counterparts. The study reports that consumers worldwide would be willing to boycott a brand solely based on its position on a critical social or political issue.
Insights from the consumer intelligence platform, Resonate, reveal that 30% of U.S. adult consumers are willing to pay more for a product based on the brand’s corporate values and how those values align with their own. Other findings suggest that 53% of U.S. adults “believe in the importance of equality and acceptance of others who are different from them,” and nearly 40 million prefer companies that support the community.
What Could Go Wrong?
As we learned from Gap’s pithy tweet about political harmony (now deleted) as the U.S. anxiously awaited the results of the Presidential election, the public has no patience for generic, low-stakes messages from brands. Nor are consumers receptive to “toothless calls for civic engagement alongside well-lit product placement,” reports the Daily Beast citing specific election-related ads from Hertz, Absolut Vodka, Oreo, Adidas, and others as well.
In 2018, McDonald’s flipped its iconic “M” to make a “W” in recognition of International Women’s Day. However, the gesture rang hollow to customers and critics because the company failed to put any real momentum behind it. McDonald’s learned from its mistake, and the following year it flipped the “M” into a “W” again for International Women’s Day. Except for this time, McDonald’s paired the gesture with a widely-praised initiative supporting the advancement of women within the organization.
Brands accept an increased risk when taking a stance on social issues or making a political statement, but neutral is no longer an option. The lesson from these brands is that it is critical to have a solid plan before taking a public position or supporting a cause.
How Can We Do Better?
As brand and influencers pivot to educate and empower and continue to entertain and sell, they must be prepared to strategically navigate societal or political issues and communicate their brand values powerfully. Here are three considerations for integrating activism into your brand:
1. Is this issue authentic to our brand?
Avoid taking a stand on a cause only because it happens to be trending news, or it’s the bandwagon other brands appear to be hopping on. Choose issues that closely align with your brand purpose, make sense with your products or services, and appeal to your target audience.
For example, luxury skincare brand La Mer uses sea kelp and other natural ingredients to create its line of products. So it makes sense that the company passionately champions the preservation of oceans and marine habitats. In 2017, the company launched the La Mer Blue Heart Oceans Fund to support ocean conservation projects around the world and primarily partners with influencers to promote it.
A report from Influencer Intelligence shares that that goal behind La Mer’s influencer marketing is “to help to tell the story of this integral ingredient in its products, balanced against the lengths it is going to, to help preserve the ocean’s delicate ecosystem.” This particular work also brings a noble intent and a more significant impact on La Mar’s influencer content.
2. Does this cause resonate with the values and psychology of our customers?
Nike’s decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in a September 2018 ad campaign was met with a swift and predictable negative reaction by critics. But Nike, well aware of the values and psychology of its customer base, stood firm in its support of Kaepernick.
As it turns out, being out in front of the Black Lives Matter movement bolstered Nike’s sales in 2020. While other appeal brands took a hit from the Covid-19 pandemic and reduced consumer spending, the Nike brand is more robust than ever. Its brand reputation with the general public has actually strengthened over the past two years, and there’s renewed interest in the brand now more than ever.
The company reports that sales were never affected by the supposed public outrage and talk of boycotts anyway because the company understands precisely who buys their products and what being on the “right side of history” means for its future.
3. Is Your Communication Strategy in Place and Ready for Anything?
Before taking a public stance on politics or social issues, establish processes and technology to monitor and engage in potentially polarizing conversations. Plans should include social media monitoring tools for handling conversations online and messaging for subverting trolling, attacks, or boycotts.
Wondering where to start? Check out these Curated Responses to Answer Online Trolls from The Influencer Activist Toolkit. Brought to you by Courage to Earn founder Brandi Riley, this site offers resources on how brands and influencers can use their platform to promote the political and social causes they care about.
Empower your company leadership, employees, and influencers to authentically take a stand on a cause or issue, both in the face of praise and criticism. Prepare them to amplify your brand’s messaging and campaigns. Focus on nurturing strong emotional connections with your customers and, above all, be human.
Blissful Media Group is available to help your company craft messaging and influencer campaigns that educate and inform. Contact them to explore your influencer and marketing options, potentially pairing up with one of our content creators and influencers with your brand.