Social problems receive significant attention these days. Brands and consumers alike are taking notice. Currently, there is evidence that consumers want to spend their money on brands that share their values.

Gone are the days when a few news outlets were charged with the bulk of the responsibility for discussing current events and the world’s social challenges. Social media and 24/7 news broadcasts have opened up communication to us all with everyone feeling empowered like never before to jump into the discussion.

Heated diatribes about everything from celebrity scandals to environmental concerns on Twitter and Facebook are commonplace. As divisive as some of these topics are, they deserve the attention of the public, corporate leadership, and our government. Being absent from these important discussions will likely mean lost business for brands who wish to remain neutral and quiet in the face of upcoming political storms.

The New Socially Responsive Consumer

Smart business executives recognize the necessity of understanding the new face of consumers. Inc. reports that the future belongs to Gen Z who currently enjoys an impressive $44 billion a year economic impact, which translates to $600 billion when you consider the big picture and the power they use to influence their parents’ buying decisions. Before you can market to these consumers, you have to know how they make decisions.

Millennials and Gen Z have much in common with a few notable differences. Many people view Gen Z as having more traditional values than their older Millennial peers. This generation wants to buy from a brand that reflects their unique values. Unlike past generations intent on buying from businesses with the best price point, superior quality or most attractive packaging, this youngest group of consumers is likely to evaluate whether a brand shares their value system.

Stand Out from the Crowd

Brand leaders’ opinions on important issues receive much attention from today’s consumers. While the advice passed down from the past to avoid controversial subjects for the sake of remaining neutral and keeping the peace was once considered a practical strategy, times have changed. Standing on the sidelines will no longer work.

ETBrandEquity reports that a 2018 study found that 64 percent of consumers admit that they have made a buying decision based on a brand’s stated position on a social or political issue. Additionally, the study claims that 56 percent of participants criticized brands for spending too little time getting consumer attention and too much time in sales mode.

Notable Brands Taking a Stand on Controversial Social Topics

Brands have heard the message and are publicly weighing in on social issues. While there is no denying the fact that speaking out can be risky, it is definitely riskier to stay out of the debate and be forgotten. Not every campaign is a winner, but many are.

Econsultancy reports on Airbnb’s decision to run an ad in support of diversity and immigration during the Super Bowl in response to Trump’s decision to close the border. The ad’s statement, “We Accept” showed a diverse group of people speaking up on behalf of Airbnb in celebration and acceptance of all people regardless of race.

Comparatively, Pepsi suffered a lot of criticism in response to an ad that had to be taken down the first day it ran. The controversial ad showed model Kendall Jenner strutting up to a police officer during a protest and offering him a Pepsi with the crowd breaking out in a cheer. The hatred this ad provoked shows how a misfire can have the opposite of the intended effect.

Yet another brand taking a stand is Stella Artois. The “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign was established to raise awareness about the water crisis around the world. A month of clean water is delivered to families in developing countries every time limited edition bottles are purchased. Spokesperson Matt Damon lends his voice and celebrity influence to this cause by encouraging people to get involved.

Brand Relevancy and Consumer Expectations

Inc. reports that consumers expect companies to join them in taking on social issues. Forbes confirms that this perspective is not exclusive to younger people, with 62 percent of consumers over the age of 55 also saying they want to hear from corporate brands about important social challenges we all face.

To remain relevant in the marketplace, corporate managers need to show evidence that they are investing in solutions both financially and with proactive initiatives. When companies can, it makes sense to facilitate the giving process by making it easier for people to get involved and contribute.

How Brands Can Successfully Engage in the Social Dialogue

Corporate leaders should resist the urge to approach this type of brand marketing without careful planning. Forbes reports that the branding consultant Sprout advises companies to be sure to promote a united corporate stance on issues they decide to champion. Part of the planning should include preparing for all types of reactions including negative feedback.

It is also noteworthy, that consumers want to hear the corporate message from the top. The CEO needs to have his voice heard, loud and often. Other top managers should also be parroting the same message.

Finally, employees should not be left out of the campaign. Companies should arm their staff members with training and materials so they can play a part in the push to weigh in on selected issues of the day.

Conclusion

Company brands are expected to take a solid stand on the social issues of the day. Consumers are unforgiving about their expectation for companies to join the public discourse on subjects like immigration, reproductive rights, environmental issues, and politics. While there are never any guarantees in business or life, companies must have the courage to get involved or risk being written off as a brand that cares little about the country and its customers.