There’s nothing new about companies influencing politics and vice versa. Corporate lobbying is thriving, a common practice in the U.S. since roughly the 1970s (though it’s been around much longer than that). But with the election and induction of President Trump, some of the biggest brands in the country—in some cases, the world—that previously worked behind the scenes with Congress, or had little interaction with it at all, are starting to take a different and, more importantly, public tone. Google, Starbucks, Apple, Nike, Netflix, Goldman Sachs and hundreds more have spoken out via social media, external open letters, public announcements and other outlets on issues ranging from the temporary travel ban to concerns over the U.S.’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. And, from the conservative side of the aisle, companies like Yuengling, MillerCoors, Hobby Lobby, and Home Depot have shown their support of President Trump, mostly in the form of public statements and fundraisers prior to the election in November.
So how do these statements connect with brand strategy? And what are the implications for brand image?
Effects vary widely, but the impact has a few unifying theme:
1) It exposes your values to scrutiny.
Corporate values are usually something brands try to highlight for consumers through CEO interviews or equity-building TV spots. That won’t be a problem after a statement like this. You will find yourself defending your values to the party opposed. Make sure you and your team will stand behind the message and there aren’t any glaring inconsistencies with that message and your brand’s past actions, business model, policies, etc. Starbucks ran into a similar problem when it came to light that one of its store is located in Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in New York.
2) It makes a huge PR splash.
Could you name a single lumber company outside of Home Depot or Lowe’s (which are really home improvement stores that happen to sell lumber) before last week’s “Big Game”? No? Can you now? Right.
3) It perpetuates polarization.
By joining the conversation, your brand will side with a team and enjoy all the perks and backlash associated. That participation presents consumers with an opportunity to demonstrate their political beliefs through either purchasing or avoiding your brand. In this small way, you help broaden an already growing divide in our culture. So consider how these actions fit into the bigger picture.
4) It conveys authenticity.
The first three points are no-brainers, but the last presents an interesting opportunity for marketers. It makes authenticity, normally a subjective, fuzzy buzzword, suddenly concrete and attainable. Consumers will know what your brand’s values are and, more to the point, that your brand will make a stand for them. You will add a genuinely human quality to your brand that no other marketing stunt can match. So. If you’re a marketer looking to generate brand loyalty, awareness and maybe even a sale or two with new consumers (cough—MILLENNIALS—cough), this is a bold move. And the impact is immediate.
How can you determine if this is right for your brand? Here are a few questions to ask:
- What do I believe and is my company/brand on the same page?
- What do I know about my consumers’ values?
- Do they have heart for the issue I’m commenting on?
- Does my statement align?
- How are my company’s business operations affected by the issue?
- Is this the right time for my brand? What happened in the news this week? This month?
- Are my team and I informed enough about this issue to speak openly about it?
- What does my brand have to gain from this statement?
- What does it have to lose?
It’s a high-stakes game. But hundreds of brands are opting in, and they’re all over the categorical map.
Need help answering some of these questions?
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