By Katie Collins9/10/2020

Use Your Brand’s Values to Navigate Through Culture and Controversy

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Brands navigating social media controversy is nothing new. However, the groundswell of cultural and social change in 2020 has underlined the debate for any brand manager – “should I respond?” “How can my brand’s marketing remain creative without igniting a social media crisis?” While a complex topic, there are three simple points to think about when building your approach:

  1. Understand what values are important to your audience
  2. Use your brand values as your North Star
  3. Have a game plan

When it comes to understanding your audience, consider these statistics regarding consumer expectations and behaviors:

  • A report from Piplsay via Marketing Dive noted that, “more than half (56%) of consumers are most willing to buy from brands that speak out against racism, with Gen Zers and millennials overindexing at 60%.”
  • Moreover, brands should reevaluate evergreen growth strategies to ensure alignment with consumer expectations and trends, per McKinsey.
    • “Many CPG companies have been renovating the brand equity of their large brands, imbuing them with more purpose, more originality, and more relevance… Particularly in the context of COVID-19, delivering on the brand’s promise is necessary but not sufficient. Consumers, especially younger consumers, want brands that understand them and share their values. They also want to know that the brand is virtuous on local community contributions, equitable commerce, and environmental performance. Trust and purpose matter more than ever.”

So, how do you manage these concerns and opportunities for your brand? Here’s a few core considerations:

  • Understand what values are important to your core audience: In today’s environment, consumers will see right through any ingenuine message or activation. If it’s not truly sincere, why should they care? As consumer behavior shifts to be more socially conscious, this can ultimately be a reason to buy or to not buy your product. This is especially imperative if your core audience is Gen Zers or Millennials (with Millennial expectations the highest, per Kantar). By truly understanding your consumer, you can make sure the causes and degree of messaging align – this shouldn’t stifle creativity. Rather, view this as more insights and another layer of data to understand your consumer when developing any plans.
  • Use your brand values as your North Star: Understanding your audience’s purchase journey is one thing, but if there’s a disconnect between words and actions, expect your approach to backfire. Consumers are expecting brands to lead by example with their marketing. In fact, Piplsay’s report found “31% of consumers [surveyed] wanting to see action within an organization before advertising that speaks out against racism, as consumers look to brands to put their money where their mouth is.” The best way to make sure there’s not a disconnect is to ensure values permeate through your organization and are not just a campaign message. Simply put, be authentic.
  • Have a game plan before releasing a new campaign: When it comes to putting anything in market, the above two points are core to build into your approach of how to manage your social media presence. Your social media responses should be an extension of the values you’re portraying in your marketing, and your values can help inform the degree to which you respond. In this cycle, you should always be listening to your consumer. Social listening is essentially free market research that you should be using to understand not only your brand’s perception, but also what your customer is thinking and needing.

Of course, there is always a risk of backlash from some consumers. This is why using your company values as a North Star is so imperative. By remaining true to your values, you can build a strong foundation to approach a complex topic.