Does your brand stay out of trouble and avoid expressing opinions that may cause offence? Is a neutral position on political, environmental, social, technological, legal or economic issues still really the best strategy for a B2B brand? Is staying above the fray a safe space?
Not according to Jeremy Heimans, whose best-selling book, New Power, talks about the way in which companies are re-evaluating their strategies with regards to staying out of a fight. Jeremy argues that brands who continue to be passive observers are in danger of alienating their customer base, or at the very least, failing to engage them.
Two examples he gave at the breakfast session I attended this morning: Dicks Sporting Goods and Delta Airlines. Dicks came out quickly after a mass shooting in America to say that it was no longer selling assault rifles. Stunning when you consider this was their biggest selling product line and the politicians in the USA are still campaigning to keep gun laws untouched.
Jeremy pointed out that the US public does not love its national airlines. When right-wing pundit, Anne Coulter, got upset with an African American woman who she felt was in her seat, Delta Airlines took a stand. It stated that it stood by its customer and banned Anne from flying with them. Apparently, Delta's approval ratings went through the roof.
The point is, things have changed. It used to be the case that when a brand was faced with an ethical dilemma, it was often the case that it stepped back, leaned out and let things settle down. In both of these cases, and there are many more, brands have leant in and proactively taken a position to enact change.
It is a high-risk strategy. In both cases, the companies in question will have lost some business. Jeremy argues that brands need to recognise that new power, people power, the same drivers of the #MeToo movement and the force that put Obama into power, ( but which he arguably then moved away from) is a force to be reckoned with. Doing nothing, leaning back, is the same as doing something.
From a communications perspective, leaning in offers many advantages. Brands that lean in and have an opinion that they are able to express, attract interest and conversation. Leaning in on the right issues can define a business or a brand. I would argue that Kanye West's endorsement of Donald Trump is an example of leaning in the wrong way. When a brand (if we can call Kanye a brand?) leans it should reflect the market it operates in, or it could alienate its audience.
So, a tricky one for communications teams, but also an exciting opportunity. It's time for brands to mean more than mission statements and pretty logos. Consumers need brands to take a stand and will be loyal to those that they have an affinity to. B2B brands may be catching up and soon find themselves having to follow suit.