Business

Should your brand adopt a social cause?

Adam Snitzer is a business consultant. He’s also a writer and the publisher of MiamiActivists.org.
Adam Snitzer is a business consultant. He’s also a writer and the publisher of MiamiActivists.org.

I plan to do a better job of putting my money where my heart is.

That means shifting even more spending to companies that are trying to do some good in the world and with brands that stand for something beyond maximizing shareholder wealth.

I won’t be alone. In fact, I’ll be part of a rapidly accelerating trend that will likely have an impact on how your company maximizes revenue.

The global marketing and communications firm Edelman recently reported that nearly two-thirds of the world’s consumers are “belief-driven,” meaning that they would either choose, switch to, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues.

That’s up an astounding 13 points from 2017, thanks — at least in part — to people’s increasing frustration with governmental disfunction. More than half of the survey’s 40,000 respondents said that it’s easier to get brands to address social problems than to get governments to take action.

According to the study, what your brand stands for is nearly as important as your products’ features in convincing people to buy. And your brand’s position on societal issues is much more important in generating online buzz, which is critical in a world where traditional advertising is less effective thanks to DVR’s, commercial-free subscription TV services, and the decline of print magazines and newspapers.

So should your brand adopt a social cause? The short answer is, yes. The long answer is, very carefully.

Nike took some heat when they signed former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a brand spokesperson. Kaepernick sparked controversy when he knelt during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. The move cost him his job and made him a pariah in the NFL. When Nike signed him as a brand spokesman there were calls for a boycott of Nike products and social media users posted videos of people lighting their Nike shoes on fire.

At the same time, Nike’s move generated an estimated $160 million in free media exposure. And while much of that exposure was negative, most of Nike’s worldwide customer base sees Kaepernick as a man of principle whose actions resonate with their own beliefs. Nike’s 2018 sales were up billions compared with 2017 and the stock was up nearly 17 percent, even as the overall S&P Index was down 6.2 percent.

On the other hand, taking a stand hasn’t been a clear win for Dick’s Sporting Goods.

In the wake of the Feb. 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 South Floridians dead, Dick’s chairman and CEO Ed Stack decided not to wait for politicians and government to do something.

Stack called “thoughts and prayers” inadequate and labeled current guns laws ineffective. “We believe it’s time to do something about it,” he wrote in an open letter as he ordered the company to stop selling assault-style guns completely and banned the sale of all guns and ammunition to anyone under 21 years old.

At least in the short term, Dick’s decision to take a stand has come at a cost. Many of the company’s customers saw the move as punishing law-abiding citizens. As a result, same store sales were down in 2018 and several Wall Street analysts downgraded the stock.

But Dick’s has no plans to back down. They’re reallocating store space previously devoted to assault rifles to higher margin products like sporting equipment and apparel. And the CEO is even turning up the dial by hiring Washington lobbyists to advocate for more stringent gun control laws.

Sales may be down. But Adweek has reported significant upticks in positive word-of-mouth about the brand. So long-term, Dick’s may well be rewarded for taking a stand.

My advice: Today’s consumers respect brands that take a stand. But choose your issues wisely.

Adam Snitzer is a business consultant. He’s also a writer and the publisher of MiamiActivists.org where you can read interviews with local thought leaders about companies that take a stand and download the Edelman consumer trend report in full.

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