How Do Consumers Really Feel About Brands Getting Political?

This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on February 8, 2018

In today’s world, it’s more and more common for public figures to join the conversation when it comes to social and political issues. While it seems like an of-the-moment trend, participation in moral and political conversations is not so new in the world of branding. Brands have been navigating the social climate and leveraging their involvement in it for years. Thanks to a new study from Sprout Social, we now have a better sense for how consumers receive brand engagement with political issues and what sorts of issues consumers deem appropriate for brands to speak up about.

This new study indicates that the majority of consumers (66%) want brands to take a firmer stance on political issues, but it’s also a bit more complex than that. The same study also indicates that in order for customers to react positively to a brand’s political stance, it typically needs to align with their own personal beliefs. If a consumer agrees with the stance, 28% will publicly praise the brand and 44% will buy more from the brand. However, if a consumer disagrees, 20% will publicly criticize the brand and 53% will avoid buying from the brand. It’s a slippery slope.

The study goes on to differentiate between parties and types of issues. While the majority of liberal consumers (nearly 80%) want brands to take a stand, conservative consumers are a bit more reserved on the issue, for them the number is a bit lower at 52%. According to the study, conservatives are more skeptical of the authenticity of a branded stance and both parties claimed to trust brand messages more when they dealt with issues that impacted their own customers, employees and business operations. The study also dives deeper into the types of issues consumers think brands should tackle, reporting that consumers believe it’s relevant for retail brands to take stances on human rights (58%), labor laws (55%), poverty and gender equality (48%) and education and the environment (both 45%).

The bottom line: consumers want to connect with brands on a more personal level and gain a deeper understanding of their character before they support them. Brands might be hesitant to chime in on hot button issues, but there might be another way. This year has seen the launch of a number of successful corporate responsibility campaigns in the sleep industry – as highlighted in our special feature, “The Bedding Industry Gives Back.” What makes them successful is that the brands giving back this year tended to champion causes they believe in. As a result, consumers get a better sense for each company’s unique character and what matters to them.

To successfully take any sort of moral stance, brands must approach their initiative with positivity and choose to speak out on relevant topics that are consistent with the company’s previously expressed culture. Apart from corporate caring campaigns and political statements, consumers are able to access more information on how brands handle themselves on an operational level and are interested in how large companies treat their employees and contribute to their communities.

Walking the walk is just as important as talking the talk. While taking a strong political stance with a formal statement is trending right now and is absolutely a meaningful way to engage consumers, brands can make statements in subtler ways through the everyday choices they make. Ultimately, retailers and manufacturers alike who do good everywhere they can, internally and through corporate giving campaigns or public stances, are more likely to succeed long term because consumers are paying attention. But when a stance of any kind is not authentic, consumers quickly see through it. The safest bet for the retailers and manufacturers of the future is to continue being good and doing good and finding opportunities to communicate their character in creative ways.

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