How to Maintain an Apolitical Brand—and Which Brands Should Consider It
With clear guidelines and consistent communication, you can keep your brand running smoothly during turbulent political times.
The modern world is bipolar: You either support a political action or you're against it.
A careful look at the corporate world reveals that brands have always practised caution when it comes to siding with a political belief. Apart from being tricky, a wrong social share, comment, or post can alienate your customers.
However, does that strategy work in the modern days? Research finds that a growing number of brands are taking political stands. While some old marketing and strategy veterans might advise a different approach, some of these businesses have achieved impressive results post their public support or disdain for a law/event/action.
It doesn't matter whether you're pro-BREXIT or you hold regrets about the move, you've to be strategic about sharing your belief. If you're a business owner, staying apolitical could be one of the best diplomatic decisions your brand can take.
This post will identify how the political stance of a brand can affect its consumers, critical factors that you should consider before disclosing your political beliefs, and how your brand can stay apolitical even in an uncertain political environment.
How consumers are driven by a brand's political stance.
As many as two-thirds of the global consumers will either buy or boycott the products of a brand based on the brand's position on a political or social issue. These customers are often categorised as belief-driven consumers, and their numbers are growing around the world. The study finds that in the UK, over half of the customers (57 percent) are belief-driven.
As a business, taking a stand that goes against your consumers may alienate your loyal clients, whereas supporting a cause that a segment of your consumer base believes in may still leave you stranded with your other customers.
Another report reveals that modern customers place more trust in businesses in comparison to their national governments. The percentage of individuals having faith in their government stands at 42 percent in the UK, whereas those trusting a company exceed 47 percent. Consumers are expecting brands to take a larger role in societal causes.
While such expectations may increase the burden to be socially proactive on a brand, one must understand that it's a risky path. One wrong decision or stance that goes against your customers could severely impact your revenues. Brand trust (81 percent) is the fifth major consideration in purchasing a product. Research finds that a consumer that trusts your brand is likely to stay loyal, advocate for your business, and even defend it.
Are you putting your business on the line for your political beliefs?
As we can see that consumers expect brands to take up societal causes and your political stance or support for a cause can attract or alienate customers. Unlike previous decades, social media has maximised everything and anything that your brand speaks out. So, how do we proceed from here? Well, the first and most critical thing is to understand what you're doing and its impact on your business. Your political instance shouldn't jeopardise your business.
Here are four things that might happen when your bran takes a political stance:
1. You might alienate a portion of your customers.
A business never operates in isolation. The chances are that every brand has customers with different political and social beliefs. When your brand takes a political stance, you risk upsetting customers who hold a different view or oppose your position.
2. You might introduce divisiveness in company culture.
Politics is tricky and divisive in nature. When the leader or top executive of a firm supports a social cause, he might introduce friction between different teams or individual team members. Peers with different political beliefs may find it challenging to communicate with teammates having a different opinion. Eventually, it will bring down the overall efficiency of your firm.
3. You will end up wasting critical resources.
When a business takes a social or political stance, the decision has a ripple effect across the organisation. Your managers may end up devoting time or resources towards handling any negative outbursts, both within or outside the organisation (which might happen anyway). You are putting your managers away from doing core business work and engage in damage control.
4. You may lose future opportunities as a result of your political alignment.
In line with the first point, a brand may lose potential prospects by disclosing its political alignment. Most partners firms will pay attention to your image, political stand when considering collaboration. Any missed opportunity on the grounds of your social belief is a loss or your business.
What every brand must consider before taking a social or political stance.
Understand the consequences of political activism. Whether you support or oppose a decision/law, your actions will have consequences. Your customers, partners, and prospects will judge your brand based on your political stance. As a business owner or entrepreneur, you must evaluate these consequences before taking a stand.
You should not only focus on revenue, but you have to consider the social cost and the effect of your actions on your brand value.
Your corporate values should align with your stance. Every business operates with a set of corporate values, and any action you take should align perfectly with these values. The upside of doing is that your loyal customers will stay put and even if you end up losing customers with different views, your business doesn't incur long-term damage.
Standing on your moral grounds instead of supporting a party is always good. Most businesses provide products and services to a broad audience, one with different beliefs and political alignments. Instead of siding with a party, a company should define its moral value and take grounds accordingly. Always remember that a business comprises multiple teams, avoiding a political stance will prevent any internal rift.
Understand the impact of your stance on your target audience. A business should understand the beliefs, choices, and political alignments of its target audience before making a political stand. It ensures that you do not upset your key customers. For instance, if millennials are your primary consumers, who are more aware and sensitive to environmental challenges, supporting environmental protection is unlikely to harm your business.
Be ready to walk your talk. More than half of the brands (56 percent) align with a political or societal issue only for marketing reasons, as revealed in a report. A reliable brand should take actions that indicate its support towards the cause. Using political or social activism as a marketing ploy is a short-term strategy only. In fact, it can do more harm to your brand than good.
Be respectful to those with a different opinion. If your brand must take a stand, it's crucial to be respectful to everyone, including ones with an opposing position. Some situations require businesses to respond and doing so without disrespecting anyone ensures that you don't do any long-term damage to your brand.
Be ready to defend your stance. Your business and team feel strongly about a social issue and decides to support or oppose it publically. You're bound to face opposition, criticism, which makes it critical to defend your stand. Again, you have to respectful and rational throughout the discussion.
Always be authentic. When you take a public stance, it becomes a part of your brand. It is crucial that your support aligns with your brand value. You will find it difficult to change the narrative later, so be very thoughtful when supporting a social cause.
How to maintain an apolitical brand with these proven tactics.
While some may argue that every business has to pick a side at some point, you should understand that there are more than ways to support a political cause. For instance, most of the leading organisations support activist groups or unions with similar political or societal beliefs instead of taking it on themselves to prove a point. This approach might even lead to fruition without having a negative impact on your business.
Additionally, established businesses have the resources to alter consumer perception or make amends on their mistakes, but small companies or startups may end up on a losing side because of their political stance.
As a rule of thumb, small businesses, startups, and growing brands may find it better to stay apolitical to preserve their interests.
Be specific about which issues are 'political.'
Internally, it would help if you decided where to draw the line. Since identity mostly impacts politics for many Brits, specific discussion points may or may not cross the line of politicism. Define this and present it to your team—especially your marketing team.
If you're worried about appearing cold as a brand, remember that you can always exemplify absolute values through your actions. A report published in the Guardian indicates that job discrimination stands at the same levels as witnessed in the 1960s when it comes to minority ethnic Britons. Your brand can take action to show your moral values when it comes to equality in jobs without making it a political agenda.
Present a clear social media policy to your employees.
A significant point of apoliticism involves social media. Brits wildly express their political opinions online, and your employees are no different. Unfortunately, if they are government employees or contractors, they may need to work under different rules.
A clear social media policy can help them separate their business and personal lives and direct them to discuss political issues in specific ways if permitted. Every employee should sign and date their social media policy. Ensure your human resources department keeps these on file.
Here is how you can create a social media policy for your business.
- Clearly designate roles for your brand's social media accounts. Clearly mention who can use your brand account.
- While it's advised to avoid a social media crisis, your brand should have a contingency plan in place. It includes critical steps such as having a social media team to address the issue, getting your legal team to speed when dealing with such problems, and how your brand can reverse the damage or at least contain it.
- Provide appropriate guidelines to your employees about their expected social media behaviour. Make sure that none of your confidential information is shared on social media.
Focus on the problems you solve.
Instead of the many sociopolitical problems present in the world, direct your brand to focus on the issues it does solve. What type of pain point does your product or service address for individuals and organisations of any political persuasion? Focusing on this type of positivity and forward momentum in a nation divided by politics can help your brand stand out.
If you are involved in a business that is directly related to the issue at hand, taking positive steps within your business and sharing the same with your customers is much better than taking a politic stance. Be mindful that you're indirectly taking a stand, but your bases are covered.
Ensure the organization remains neutral in a stated way.
Your mission statement can and should include your brand's apolitical nature. If possible, describe why your brand is obligated to take an apolitical stance. Ensure all messages from your brand, consider the mission statement during a review, preferably as a significant part of the editing process.
Along with this point, you must be prepared to answer inquiries about your brand's political status. With a clear mission statement, you can direct customers to your approved, published messaging.
What are the risks of being an apolitical brand?
- Your brand may come across as apathetic if you decide not to take a stand against a major social issue.
- If your brand doesn't take a stance when your entire industry does, you may end up losing your business to your competition.
- Consumers expect brands to be more socially responsible. If your brand separates itself from its social responsibility, you may witness customer churn in the long run.
As politics affect our daily lives and business, it isn't straightforward to be genuinely apolitical as individuals and business entities. However, with clear guidelines and consistent communication, you can keep your brand running smoothly during turbulent political times.