As you read this, the most important crises in a generation are raging on across the world.
The very fabric of democracy in the United States is still under threat, the growing power of the far-right across the European Union is unsettling, and — in the case of Brexit — an entire country has been extricated from the EU because anti-immigrant rhetoric is so strong.
In this divisive environment, refusing to take a stand is taking a stand.
Even if people avoid talking politics in polite company, it matters very much to them who they’re willing to open their wallets to. Data, research and case studies show that aligning your business with far-right politics means bad press, unhappy customers, and ultimately, cuts to your bottom line.
On the other hand, businesses that support social justice and progressive politics attract the right kind of people, the customers who become your “tribe.”
The Copy Bear wants to encourage liberal business owners to take a stand. To call out to their “tribe”. To try to make the world a little better. To be on the right side of history.
By The Numbers
If you’re thinking, “Hang on, my brand can’t afford to wade into politics,” you need to ask yourself: Can your brand afford not to?
Take the British banking company HSBC. It has long touted its international street cred, advertising its status as “the world’s local bank.” As Brexit tensions broiled in 2019, the bank released a campaign titled, “We Are Not an Island.”
“We are not an island,” the ad said. “We are a Colombian coffee drinking, American movie watching, Swedish flat-pack assembling, Korean tablet tapping, Belgian striker supporting, Dutch beer cheers-ing, tikka masala eating, wonderful little lump of land in the middle of the sea. We are part of something far, far bigger.”
While a bank spokesperson told The Drum the ad wasn’t specifically anti-Brexit, the bank’s customers — and the press — read between the lines, and the bank was showered with positive coverage. HSBC made it clear to the world that they believe in bridges, not walls — and sending out this kind of liberal campaign isn’t accidental or for a CEO who wears his heart on his sleeve.
There are hard numbers to back up why your brand needs to take a stand now.
In 2017, an Edelman report determined that 51% of consumers around the world were “belief-driven buyers.” In 2018, that number rose to 64%. In 2020, that rose further still to 66%. And the demographics driving these figures are, to put it plainly, all of them.
It isn’t just Millennials or Generation Z — the latter of which is shown to be even more motivated by causes than Millennials — and this isn’t a phenomenon limited to young people, either. According to Edelman, while 69% of people ages 18-34 want brands to take a stand, 67% of people ages 35-54 and 56% of people over the age of 55 also want the same.
Income also wasn’t a factor in this study: According to Edelman’s 2018 results, 69% of the top 25% of earners worldwide, as well as 62% of the bottom 75% of earners, consider themselves “belief-driven buyers”. Nike’s Colin Kaepernick’s campaign (pictured above) drove a mighty sales spike for the sportswear company.
The want for a purpose beyond profit isn’t just for Americans, either. Britons believe at a higher rate than Americans that brands like yours have a responsibility to the society they serve: 54% in the UK to 41% in the US.
Your brand can speak out in support of the people in your community who need it most, drive the conversation, help make history, and connect with your customers in a way that transcends one quick sale. Your brand can become a vital part of the community, no matter how big or small you may be.
Leading By Example
Ravelry is the perfect example of a small but tight community that made major waves when it banned its site from posts that support President Trump. A popular free online service and sounding board for knitters, crocheters and other fans of fiber arts, Ravelry made international headlines in the summer of 2019 after it went public with its decision.
“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy,” the site’s moderators wrote in a statement in part.
Additionally, Ravelry has incorporated the Pride flag as part of its logo, making it clear where it stood on both the Trump administration and the equal treatment of LGBTQIA people around the world.
Other examples of strong execution from brands around the world include Chobani’s immigrant and refugee advocacy, Lush’s #SpyCops campaign, and Stella Artois’ clean water initiative.
Of course, there are also brands that have attempted to take a stance on an issue and failed epically, like Pepsi in 2017. When the company used institutional racism and African American protests of police brutality as a backdrop for advertising a soft drink, they were eviscerated across social and international media.
They failed to truly listen to the struggles of the people they were depicting, and as a result, came across as superficial, contrived, and tone-deaf.
It came across as them trying to capitalize on the issue, not draw authentic attention to it.
So how can you be Ravelry instead of Pepsi? How is it done effectively and authentically?
We know through numbers and case studies that there are tangible benefits to your brand taking a liberal stance, but there’s a point we can’t hammer home hard enough: You can’t fake this. Your tribe will detect any trace of inauthenticity. This has to come from the heart.
Here’s a quick glance at what this looks like:
1. Identify who you are as a company, what values your products promote, and how your customers perceive you, according to Forbes. Once you have that equity, it’s time to start planning an advertising campaign.
2. Plan your campaigns and your crisis responses. You know what you’ve got in common with your core, most important customers, and you care about the same things. Now make sure you discuss with your team how to react to policies that come out against these groups. Also be proactive: How are you going to design your new ad campaign to authentically speak to those people? And, how are you going to respond to your detractors? Be ready to post your stance, and reply accordingly, across all major platforms you engage with customers on.
3. Make your move and step into the spotlight. Be seen, talked about, and connected with. Listen clearly to customers through social channels, your website or email. Any mistakes should be addressed seriously, and you should consider hiring a diversity and inclusion expert if necessary. Learn from any problems your team may have, but don’t stop trying.
You know who your core customers are.
They know who you are.
And by resolutely moving forward as a liberal company at a time when human decency is demonstrably deteriorating, you will retain the goodwill and approval of the people you started this business for in the first place.