4 Things Brands Should Keep in Mind When Taking a Stand

Knowing who their customers are and what's important to them

Brands need to put their money where their messages are and take real action.
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Brands often find that when they aim to do good, they also end up doing well. Here are four rules to keep in mind.

Know your customers

Before you take a potentially controversial or divisive stance, you need to know who your customers are and what’s important to them. Many companies fail to do a thorough audit of their customer base, says Tripp Donnelly, CEO of digital reputation management firm REQ. Those that do are often surprised by what they find.

“We often see companies living with old assumptions about who their customers are,” he says. “Many like to say they’re ‘a data-driven organization’ and then not actually look at the data. They need to have a definitive understanding of who their clients are, especially if they’re going to make a highly politicized or activist statement.”

Get the boss on board

When brands are forced to take a stand and be transparent about their values, the message has to come from the top.

“You can’t put the burden on your social media manager to tell the world how you feel about the Parkland students,” says Mark Ray, principal and chief creative officer of North, a purpose-based ad agency in Portland, Ore. “You need the CEO to decide the company’s stance on the Parkland movement.”

In most cases, says Ray, the CEO knows what position he or she wants the company to take, but usually needs help navigating around potential landmines and making sure the message is accurate and unambiguous.

Walk the walk (and talk about it)

It’s not enough to put out the right statements or endorse the right issues. Brands need to also put their money where their messages are and take real action, says Max Lenderman, CEO of purpose-driven ad agency School. But it’s also important to highlight these efforts.

“One of the things we try to do at School is to commercialize corporate social responsibility,” he says. “There are millions of dollars being devoted by large corporations to their corporate responsibility efforts that never see the light of day.”

Be good—it’s good for business

Brands can no longer count on customers remaining loyal. Instead, brands need to be loyal to their customers, says Jamie Gutfreund, global CMO at digital agency Wunderman. A big part of that is providing service to the community and the world at large, then trusting that people will recognize that and want to do business with you.

“Being in service to your customer means being a good company,” she says. “It means supporting social causes that have nothing to do with sales. It’s not a question of ‘I’m supporting a social cause because I want to create loyalty.’ You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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