Brands Should Take a Stand

Brands have evolved from mere symbols of product quality and identifiers to aid customers in purchase selections.  They are bundles of values and attributes that define the way companies behave and the value they deliver to customers.  In layman’s terms, a brand is what you do and how you do it.  This means brands represent more than products or services — they convey value through their personalities, their communications, and their ideas.  And as such, brands should take a stand.

Have a point of view.

Taking a stand means having a point of view — on a political issue, a social cause, a cultural trend, even a news item.  In a terrific Knowledge@Wharton piece, Eric Solomon, Brand Strategy Director at Google, writes, “Having a dedicated point of view is something that defines some of the world’s most iconic, successful brands. This is a big part of what helps a brand differentiate itself from competition, and what helps to fill the gap between the products companies make and the emotional experience a brand idea can convey.”  He cites as examples Cheerios’s portrayal of multi-racial families in its advertising and Always’s “Like a Girl” campaign.

In The Gazette, Nick Westergaard writes about CVS removing tobacco from its stores so it could fulfill its mission authentically and about Thinx, a brand of period-proof underwear that “regularly shares updates on women’s’ health issues and feminism in their email newsletter.”  Nick says, “Consumers today aren’t just looking for brands to purchase from…They’re looking for communities to be a part of.

Eric explains that “People expect companies to have a point of view on current cultural or political issues. According to a 2014 study, around 75% of millennials believe that businesses should share a point of view about issues and should influence others to get involved in an issue.” I would guess that older people might not expect companies to do so, but appreciate the effects.  In commoditized categories where products seem very similar and when many brands seem only to be hocking deals and steals, a brand that stakes a claim on something more meaningful is more salient and memorable.

Don’t grandstand or bystand.

Some brands grandstand.  They speak out on a hot issue or engage in newsjacking in an attempt to draw attention to themselves.  Commenting on Eric’s piece, Ben Allen, President at Labrador Agency, observed that some companies work “to amplify the budget and show earned media through controversy rather than being reflective of what the brand is and what it can rightly own.”  Some of the brands that have taken action to support or protest Trump-related issues seem to fall into this category.

Other brands just bystand. They let relevant issues and opportunities pass them by because they’re “too busy” or they stay quiet for fear of offending people.  Restaurants that don’t speak out about immigration policy, football sponsors that don’t address player’s domestic violence and health risks, technology companies that don’t acknowledge gender issues in their industry, global corporations that don’t advocate for better living conditions in the countries they do business in — these are just a few of the opportunities that are missed when brands are too inwardly focused or lack the courage to stand up for what’s right.

Of course, you have to allocate your resources wisely and some companies might not have the budget or the bandwidth to do more than simply run the business, but taking stand doesn’t necessarily involve additional work or investment.  Sometimes it’s simply a matter of redirecting what you’re already doing — communicating with customers, posting in social media, engaging your employees and other stakeholders, etc.  Instead of selling stuff, seek to engage people.  Instead of promoting your products, share your values.  Instead of trying to be trendy, do something meaningful.  Taking a stand just requires being thoughtful, purposeful, and responsible.

Take a stand.

Brands should stand. Stand for something, that is -- and stand for it clearly.Click To Tweet

Stand for something, that is — and stand for it clearly.

If you’ve seen me speak, you know that I usually end my talks by sharing with people that business is personal to me.  I mean that I believe in business to make a positive impact in people’s lives — and I believe it’s businesspeople who can change the world for the better.  Business leaders have a tremendous opportunity — I would go so far as to say they have a responsibility — to make a substantive, valuable difference in this world.  They can fulfill it by ensuring their brands stand for something important and by designing and running their businesses in ways that express, reinforce,  and advance that point of view.

For some companies, that may mean simply communicating with customers in a way that conveys their common humanity.  For others, it could be a different way of engaging on social media, choosing business partners, treating employees, developing products, providing services, or otherwise creating value.  And for some, making a positive impact means running a high profile program to advocate for cultural, social, political, or economic change.  Whatever it is, business leaders should seek to make a real difference in this world — and brands should take a stand.

(With this post, I’m taking a stand and I can’t wait to hear your reactions — comments are open!)


great brands never have to “give back”
John Gerzema on how to connect with today’s consumer
sustainability: what’s a brand got to do with it?

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