When Should Your Brand Get Political?
Question: As a brand, is it ok to talk about your political views at the risk of alienating some of your audience?
Short Answer: Yes
Hot-button political topics rule our newsfeeds and news channels, especially in the current moment. Almost anyone who has an opinion also has a platform to express themselves and contribute to the conversation, thanks to social media. If you’re in the process of building a brand and you’re using the digital space to engage your audience, you might wonder when it’s ok to share your personal point of view on controversial topics. How do you differentiate between your own perspective and your brand’s perspective, especially if you’re the main spokesperson for your business? Should you take the risk of alienating members of your audience that might disagree with you? I say, yes. But only under certain conditions.
Before you talk politics on behalf of your brand, ask yourself these 4 questions:
1) DOES MY AUDIENCE EXPECT TO HEAR FROM ME ABOUT THIS?
Just like with any content you put out for your brand, think about your audience first. Is there a current political issue that directly and specifically affects your primary following? Would your silence on the issue be noticeable and off-putting to your tribe? Following the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, many fans noticed that Nicki Minaj chose not to acknowledge the incident. And while she isn’t required to comment on any event, the fact that the LGBTQ community makes up a large portion of Nicki’s fanbase drove many to wonder why the star stayed silent on this issue, even though she did acknowledge the terrorist attack in London months later. It’s true that there’s no way to satisfy everyone with your decision to comment on a crisis or not. But consistency and accountability to your audience matter for maintaining trust in your brand.
2) WHAT IS THE POPULAR OPINION AMONG MY TARGET AUDIENCE?
Piggybacking off of my first point, consider whether or not there’s a popular opinion about an issue among your target audience and, if so, whether or not your opinion aligns with it. 57% of consumers say that they will boycott a brand that does not share their political or social beliefs. If your opinion on a matter sharply contrasts with that of your target audience, it may be best to keep it to yourself when posting on behalf of your brand.
3) CAN I CONTRIBUTE TO THE CONVERSATION IN A WAY THAT’S CREATIVE AND RELEVANT TO MY BRAND?
Sometimes a controversial current event or political topic can serve as an opportunity to reinforce your brand values among your target audience. In some cases, it can even yield creative user-generated responses. When Ben & Jerry’s tweeted in support of Black Lives Matter in October 2016, audiences responded with mixed reactions. But the beloved ice cream brand gained some new fans for their statement, and moreover, a hashtag trend called #benandjerrysnewflavor emerged, bringing the brand even more visibility. This was an organic response that Ben & Jerry’s probably didn’t foresee.
Ben & Jerry's also released a flavor called "Empower Mint" and contributed a portion of proceeds to the NAACP NC. The moral of this story is that whichever stance you take and publish on behalf of your brand should come from an authentic place and not from an intent to exploit a political cause for profit. A timely and authentic expression of support for a cause can potentially bring a stronger affinity from your existing audience, as well as exposure to untapped communities that share your values. Ben & Jerry’s has a history of aligning with social justice causes, so it was “on-brand” for them to make this statement. So, make sure that if you choose to make a statement, it’s “on-brand” for you as well.
4) WILL MY COMMENTARY BENEFIT MY BOTTOM LINE?
If you follow me, this last point should come as no surprise. Before publishing commentary on a political or social issue, ask yourself if it benefits your brand’s bottom line. What is your brand’s bread and butter? Do your followers come to you for style tips? Business advice? To purchase a product? To see your art? Will your commentary be relevant at all to your brand? Can you contribute to a controversial dialogue in a way that will add value to your followers’ lives or bring a positive perception to your business?
R&B singer Chrisette Michele chose to ignore these questions and the outcry of the majority of her fans when she accepted an offer to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration. She’s since expressed regret for the decision after experiencing severe backlash in her personal and professional life. This was an instance where a public figure neglected to think about her brand’s bottom line before aligning her platform with a politically-charged choice. The majority of us are not at risk of failing on such a grand scale, but it’s a good cautionary tale to remind us to prioritize our business objectives in all of our communications.
So, should you speak up about social and political topics from your brand's platform? Yes, IF 1) the topic overwhelmingly impacts your target audience and they'll expect to hear from you, 2) your point of view most likely aligns with the majority of your supporters', 3) you have an authentic and creative way to contribute to the dialogue, and 4) your commentary will bring a favorable response to your brand. Brand responsibly!