It’s almost November and we’re right in the thick of a heated and consequential presidential election.
Whether you’re a democrat or a republican or anywhere in between, most of us have some passionate beliefs and emotions tied up in this year’s political conversation, and we’re all entitled to an opinion.
But what about your business? Should your company be taking a stand and publicizing where you fall on hot-button issues like the election?
There are some definite benefits and concerns that go along with weighing in on controversial topics, so we wanted to lay them bare. And you can decide for yourself and your business, what the right path is.
What’s at Stake
The biggest risk you incur when your business weighs in on controversy is alienating current and potential customers and employees. Depending on your specific target market, that risk might be more or less significant. And in some demographics, not weighing in can be just as risky. Data from the Global Strategy Group showed that a majority of Americans (56%) believe that businesses should join the conversation about key political and social issues.
We’ve all heard about Millennials and their desire to use spending power to support socially conscious businesses, but it’s not just Gen X. A Qualtrics study found that U.S. consumers are 8.1% more likely to buy from a company whose opinions align with their own and 8.4% less likely to patronize a business with a contrary stance.
Consider Starbucks, virtually the founder of brand controversy. Back in 2012, they took a public stand in support of same-sex marriage. While many customers shared that sentiment, others didn’t, and the Dump Starbucks campaign was born (boasting over seventy thousand pledges as of yesterday.)
There’s no denying that weighing in on topics like same-sex marriage and immigration can have a sizable effect on your revenue and customer base — whether that effect is positive or negative is another issue entirely.
So consumers in the U.S. care what brands stand for, but ‘consumers in the U.S.’ is a pretty broad category. Let’s narrow it down a bit.
Consumers between the ages of 18-35 were most likely to purchase from a company who shares their stance. In fact, the 26-35 year-old group was 21.1% more likely to frequent businesses with whom they agreed on social issues.
The 56 or older group, however, were the most likely to avoid patronizing a company whose stance they disagree with. They were 16% less likely to make a purchase when the business’s beliefs were inconsistent with their own.
It’s also important to consider your industry and what customers have come to expect from you as a brand. We’ve seen plenty of recent examples of backlash after prominent celebrities and entertainment personalities weigh in on social and political issues.
Why do we accept political commentary from Stephen Colbert but not from Beyoncé? The audience your brand speaks to determines your messaging and the reaction you can expect.
TL;DR It all comes down to your target market.
If your customers are primarily under the age of 35, it could be in your favor to take a stand and show consumers where you fall on key issues. Those serving the over 55 group might see a drop in sales if they weigh in.
But age isn’t the only characteristic to take into account. Demographics like location, income level, and ethnicity can also impact where your customers fall on political and social issues. If you can figure out how your target market views particular topics, you can make a more educated decision about how publicizing your opinion will affect your business.
What Other People Had to Say
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage decision, we saw large corporations, like American Airlines, take a very clear stand for or against the decision. These inspired Inbound.org to pose the question Should brands get involved with political or other controversial issues?
You can head over to their website to see the myriad of responses from the community, but here are a few we found compelling.
It's all about the company culture, if leadership is publicly supporting these issues I think it's great. If they are just jumping on a bandwagon for social engagement. I think people see right through that.
It can be unhealthy to make this a selling point of your brand. I noticed that Mastercard promoted a tweet about their support for marriage equality. When you pay to push out your brand identity, it can come off as disingenuous.
From a recruiting perspective, I think this could go a long way with attracting (and also alienating) potential employees. While I do respect the opinions of all, I would much rather work for a company that aligns with my personal values.
Tips for Weighing In
Ready to declare your business’s politics to the world? Great, but read these tips first to ensure it’s smooth sailing for your brand’s image.
- Test the waters with safe controversy. When people get fired up about a particular issue, it can create a ton of engagement. But you can experiment with safer controversial subjects to see how your audience reacts, before you Instagram a photo of your ballot. For example: Ask your social media followers which direction the toilet paper should go, and see what happens.
Don’t do it just for the attention. If you’re only “jumping on the bandwagon,” as Luiz put it, consumers will see right through you. Don’t stake your brand’s authenticity — only weigh in on issues you’re truly passionate about and avoid making the conversation all about you.
Keep your target market in mind. Knowing where your customer base likely falls on a topic can help you decide whether taking a stand will help or hurt your business. That’s not to say you should be silent on issues you believe in if they conflict with your customers’ beliefs, but you should be prepared for their reaction.
Have a crisis plan in place. No matter how much research and contemplation you put in, there’s always a chance your customers or employees will rise up and rebel against your stance. It’s an unfortunate scenario, but being ready for it can help mitigate any potential damage.
To Declare Your Stance?
At the end of the day, it’s entirely up to you to decide whether or not your business should weigh in on hot-button social and political issues. If you’re passionate about your business and the issues, then the choice is clear.
Has your business taken a public stand on any controversial issues? Tell us how it turned out in the comments below.