The recent rise of polarization and controversy in the political environment has brought an unprecedented amount of companies taking strong sociopolitical stances publically, including executives speaking out from Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Goldman Sachs, Airbnb, Nike, Starbucks, and Facebook to name a few.
What makes this era unique is that while companies are leveraging their power for political change, it equally empowers consumers with an opportunity for activism. As companies take a left or right leaning side, the consumer has a clear point of action regarding how they will engage with a brand to let their voice be heard.
Let’s take the recent #DeleteUber movement as an example. When Uber lifted their surge pricing just after the taxi strike on Trump’s travel ban, Twitter exploded with #DeleteUber outrage. Within one weekend more than 200,000 people had deleted their Uber accounts. In response to each customer who had requested to deactivate their account, Uber sent a personalized email message which spoke directly to the company’s views on the topic, ostensibly to deter them from actually completing the deletion process and instead to give Uber another chance.
Less than one week later, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick announced that he was stepping down from Trump’s economic advisory council.
Another recent example comes from Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky, who posted on Facebook to offer refugees “denied the ability to board a US-bound flight and are not in your city/country of residence” a free place to stay, signing off with his personal email for anyone to contact him directly.
Airbnb’s #WeAccept campaign, debuted at the SuperBowl, invited their homeowner community to share their homes for free with those affected by the President’s immigration freeze. Airbnb also offered to subsidize the cost of rentals to those in need if donated listings weren’t available in a particular area. Their goal is to provide short-term housing to 100,000 people in need over the next five years with the help of their community. The company unapologetically exhibited their political stance and opened a direct opportunity for their customer base to stand with them.
These, and many other examples, raise the question for brands, now more than ever, how they should respond to this new, hyper-political and inevitably hyper-volatile business environment. At the end of the day, business leaders still have a company to run, with aggressive growth goals, increasing competition in the marketplace, and internal and external pressures.
So what role should your company play in redefining, or making public, your brand identity in relation to political issues at hand?
While Mambo can’t say whether your company should or shouldn’t take a political stance, we can offer some recommendations for what the process might look like, and how you can make a thoughtful, data-driven, and strategic step towards showcasing brand activism publicly.
A Strategic Approach
The below approach offers brands a step-by-step process on how to become more political online and what to consider before making the decision.
Consider the Risks
Regardless of your industry, your customers are distinctly different, running a wide political spectrum. While some topics are much more disputable than others, any company choosing to take a political stance is risking losing customers who disagree.
- What risks are your company willing to take? Do your values outweigh a share of revenue?
- What is your company culture? Will your employees be behind you, or will this create internal turmoil?
- How will your executive team draw a line between personal beliefs and what is best for the company to identify with?
Do Your Research
Every company has a unique set of variables to examine before going political in public. Consider your industry, your location, the demographic and psychographic makeup of your target audience, and your brand’s mission. Find companies with a similar makeup who’ve chosen to message their political opinions online.
- How is it affecting their audience? Are the reactions positive or negative?
- How is it affecting their reputation? Has it garnered press for better or worse? Have there been any ramifications and could your company handle the same?
- Is there something you can learn from other brands on how you may or may not approach a certain topic? What messaging is most effective and in what ways have brands successfully navigated this in the online environment?
Prioritize Your Passions
There are many political issues to support or oppose. Your company can’t tackle all of them while still staying true to your brand mission and strategic business goals. Narrow your focus to a small subset of topics that you’ll engage with.
- What is your current brand mission? Are their political topics that more clearly align with the reputation you’ve built for your company? Choose a side on topics that will feel authentic for your consumer and for your brand.
- Whenever possible, support something positive instead of opposing something negative. Leveraging your company to be solutions-driven, will encourage positive conversation on your channels and may help to avoid controversy.
- Think long term. Where will your company be in one year? In three? In five? Will these topics still align with those goals?
Set Your Strategy
Once you’ve prioritized your values and considered their effects on your business, it’s imperative to be strategic rather than reactionary. Here are a few things to consider:
- The content that will support this message. What content will your team need to create? What new or existing partnerships will be leveraged to support a cause? How will you ensure this content aligns with your current content strategy?
- The strength of your message. Will you subtly support a topic or broad school of thought, or will you pointedly support people, groups, bills, etc. Subtle brand activism might entice a different response than a political message that is more direct and specific. Consider language that already aligns with your company’s messaging strategy ensure your team is aware of the “trigger words” related to any given topic or group.
- The frequency of that message. What percentage of your overall content mix will be dedicated to political messaging? What share of your media budget will shift to this focus? Adjust your overall content mix to ensure you’re still meeting your business objectives.
Regardless of whether your company is considering becoming more openly political, you should be prepared with a crisis communication plan. As Warren Buffet reminds us, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to destroy it.”
- Consider the weight of your messaging and the available resources on your team. Are they prepared to respond to questions, concerns, applause, or disgruntled bicker? By being anything but neutral, your brand is welcoming opinion of all spectrums. Do you have the right listening and monitoring tools in place? How will you set your team up for success?
- Are your stakeholders behind you? Your brand activism shouldn’t surprise those investing in, or working for your company. Ensuring alignment between all levels of your team will open communication channels and encourage proper feedback loops.
Test your audience with a few subtly political messages over a longer span of time. If your brand hasn’t practiced being an online activist, it may also feel sudden for your customers. By starting slow and gathering data about how your consumers react, you’ll be able to better understand if your decision will strengthen loyalty or break trust and create exclusivity.
PBS Economics correspondent Paul Solman explores the question of whether we will create a nation that’s as divided in terms of who consumers shop for as who they vote for.
In this emotionally-fueled environment, a brand’s power to drastically shift customer loyalty through a transparent political identity urges companies to look closely at how they will react, respond, and also predict their future online. Are you prepared to join the movement?