People Are Speaking With Their Pocketbooks. Are Brands Listening?
2020 was an inflection point for conscious consumerism. After a tumultuous year of social justice issues, more people are carefully evaluating the products they purchase and the companies they support. Research from Futurity indicates that 55 percent of consumers are paying more attention to brand values than they were a year ago, and 35 percent report their personal values have shifted.
Brands are taking notice and action. In addition to aligning themselves with causes supporting social justice, some organizations are pulling back on political support. Morgan Stanley, Marriott International, and Airbnb decided to halt political action committee donations to the 147 Republicans in Congress who fought against certifying election results on Jan. 6, and Facebook and Microsoft decided to pause donations to both parties.
Choosing not to take a stand communicates complicity, and that’s not good for business. Value misalignment can be costly and may negatively affect the public’s perception of your brand. Moving forward, you’ll need to align yourself with customers on social issues that are important to them and effectively demonstrate your brand values.
There’s No More Neutral
Brands used to avoid taking stances on political or social issues for fear of alienating their customers, which was relatively easy for them to do. In many cases, consumers simply didn't see the relationship between big business and government lobbyists or have insight into corporate policies.
Today, that information can be found through a quick Google search or in the daily news cycle. Consider the backlash against Chick-fil-A for its CEO’s anti-LGBTQ comments or the news about Amazon.com's mistreatment of workers and anti-union rhetoric. While these brands are highly successful, millions won’t support them because of value misalignment.
Consumers are clearly voting with their wallets. If you’re not aligned with your core customers, you will feel an impact. Here’s how you can communicate your brand values and step up to the plate:
1. Take a stand.
Neutrality is no longer an option. Customers aren’t only interacting with brands in a physical store a few times each month — they’re browsing wares online, hearing about products from friends and family members, and scrolling past brand accounts on their favorite social media platforms.
Now that brands are so accessible, customers expect more from them. Data from the Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that 53 percent of consumers believe every brand should commit to at least one social issue that isn’t directly connected to its bottom line.
2. Live your values.
Say what you do and do what you say. Lots of brands are careful about clearly articulating their position in all communications, but it’s even more important to demonstrate your values through your actions. Without authenticity, contributing to a cause is just a publicity stunt; today’s savvy consumers will see right through it.
For instance, Fashion Nova has been criticized for silence and inaction regarding anti-Black racism and the Black Lives Matter movement even though most of its customers are Black women. What are you doing to support your customers and back up what you say? You might post about Pride in June, but what are you doing to support the LGBTQ community throughout the year?
3. Consider your customer.
Even the most successful brands can’t afford to take a stand on everything. With limited resources and bandwidth, it’s a good idea to focus on what matters the most to your customers. Outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face lean into environmental causes, while a tech company that supports diversity might align itself with an organization like Girls Who Code.
Partnerships are key. Supporting an existing nonprofit is an effective way to invest in change, and shining the light on another organization helps convince skeptical consumers that your actions aren’t performative.
Modern consumers see silence as complicity. To do the right thing and maintain your bottom line, you need to support the causes that your customers care about. Once you do, you’ll earn a positive reputation as a brand that takes action.
Jeff Snyder is the founder and chief inspiration officer at Inspira Marketing Group, a brand experience agency headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut and New York City.
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