In uneasy times, the most powerful thing a brand can do is to define its place, value and opinions in the world. That way, everyone knows where they stand.
It’s happened to Doc Martins, Burberry and others over the years: groups turned their brand into a symbol of something the brand itself did not believe or endorse.
There’s crises and dangers everywhere we look. From ISIS to mass shootings, pandemics to weather events, Greek debt to commodity slumps, the actions and repercussions stream onto media in a seemingly endless scroll. In that sense the world we live in has changed little from when I was a child.
What have you got to say for yourself? How and when should a brand take a stand? And if you do, should you go hard or go soft? Talking is a critical part of brand behaviour.
In a recent address at Cannes, Monica Lewinsky made a plea for brands to play a more direct role in building a compassionate society: one where the power of social media to generate shame and humiliation (and gain money by doing so) was eschewed in favour of an environment that collectively supported and inspired individuals and their actions.
As more brands seek to engage in what Denise Yohn has referred to as the “cultural conversations” of today, they encounter reactions ranging from strong endorsement to cynicism about their motives. Starbucks, for example, hit turbulence with its Race Together campaign. (There’s an excellent analysis of why here.) Levis on the other hand seems to have had an easier ride with its Water<Less campaign. Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This campaign was hailed by many as honest, genuine and utterly in keeping with their beliefs.
The opinionated consumer is on the rise. Brad Tuttle cites numerous examples of boycotting, protesting, petitioning and venting in this recent article in Time. Encouraged by the galvinising effects of social media and mass action against brands that they perceive to have done wrong, people everywhere it seems are pointing the finger and calling upon others to do the same.
In a world of conversations, everyone has something to say. You can’t control that – nor should you, at least not in a democracy. Some people will agree with you. Others will not. You can’t control that either. Some will argue their case against what you are doing or suggest that you are not doing it correctly. They have the right to make their point within legal bounds. But where a lot of brands go wrong is that they take their cue for their own storytelling from the stories that others are telling about them. Their story, in other words, manifests itself in the form of reactions to other people’s stories rather than as actions built around their own narrative. Don’t get me right. Brands must respond to the assertions of others. But they cannot allow others to control the brand conversation to the point where their own share of voice is lost. They must know and advance their own viewpoints. Too many brands view challenges as criticism and react to them that way, instead …