No Risk, No Reward: Brands That Take a Stand

When was the last time you bought a product because you agreed with that company’s stance on a political or social issue? If this is normal purchasing behavior for you, you’re in the majority. In fact, a new study says that 88% of surveyed consumers are more likely to be loyal to companies that support social or environmental issues aligned with their own beliefs, and 66% said they’d pay more for a product from a socially responsible company.

In the past, big corporations were advised to avoid these conversations at all costs. They had no place meddling in important societal debates and were better off staying in their lane. Not anymore.

No risk. No reward.
That’s the new motto that brands have to live by in today’s competitive climate. More and more companies are coming forward to pick a side on socially important issues. From Airbnb to Heineken and many more in between, taking a stand is the new norm, and it’s paying off.
Today’s consumers (specifically millennials and Gen Z) are less interested in inexpensive or traditionally popular brands and are more interested in brands with a purpose. They want to support companies that take a stance on social and political issues and give consumers the opportunity to stand alongside them and enact change by purchasing their product.

Take Patagonia, for example.
The outdoor apparel company has always been a big proponent of environmental activism and the preservation of national parks, but they took it a step further with their response to a proposed plan to roll back protections on two national monuments in Utah. With a new landing page that read, “The President Stole Your Land and You Were Lied To,” a defiant statement and a lawsuit in hand, the company had more than chosen its side. The result of this unprecedented, bold move? A 7% increase in sales that week.

Patagonia’s success with such a risky campaign is just one side of the coin: 76% of consumers say that they would refuse to buy from a company that supports issues they don’t believe in. Along with loss of sales, companies risk losing customer loyalty altogether, inviting media backlash and even undergoing lawsuits of their own, if they speak up.

So how does a brand choose what to do with its platform — its power? Do they play it safe and stick to what they know? Go on tweeting about their niche industry and creating ads about sunshine and rainbows, or do they find their voice, pick an issue they’re passionate about and try to make a difference? Rest assured, both of these options are risky — sometimes, silence speaks louder than words. But it’s up to a company’s leaders to decide which risk is worth taking.

Some companies have it easier than others when it comes to making this decision. Plenty of founders and CEOs — like Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy, Lyft’s John Zimmer and Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard — have been outspoken with their beliefs and included them as a core piece of their business model. But what about the companies whose values aren’t so crystal clear?

Enter the vision and mission statements.
Every company should have a clear vision and mission as well as goals to work back toward them. This doesn’t have to be an extreme social or political statement, but it should answer a few questions:

  • What do we do?
  • Why do we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value do we bring?

If your answers to these questions have anything to do with being a socially responsible brand, then it might be time to join a larger conversation. You don’t have to go gung ho into every single social issue the world is facing. Consider starting with relevant issues that directly affect your industry (or vice versa). Does your company use recyclable packaging? Support environmental causes. In the beverage industry? Partner with clean water organizations.

The world needs more companies that are willing to use their platform for good and drive positive change. It’s not only what consumers want, it’s what they expect of the brands they support. It’ll always be risky to say something, but now, it’s just as risky to say nothing.

So, what’ll it be?

If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
— Gordon A. Eadie

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