Nowadays, when it comes to speaking out on matters of social justice, the default for brands is no longer staying silent.
Consumers have grown to expect a level of social consciousness from the brands they support. According to a Sproutsocial survey in 2019, 70% of consumers believe it is important for brands to make public statements on their views of social and political issues, and 47% expect this discussion to take place on social media.
As discussions of social inequalities and environmental issues dominate social media, it has become standard procedure for brands to respond to hot-topic social justice issues with public statements, donations, and campaigns of their own.
Of course, this can be risky, as many brands have stood up just to end up with their foot in their mouth and a damaged public image. However, when done thoughtfully and authentically, using your brand to speak up on a social or political issue has the potential to benefit both society and your relationship with your customers.
Being the right choice
Purchasing goods and services from socially conscious companies make consumers feel like they are doing something good with their money.
Whether they are reaching for a fleece that is combatting climate change or booking a vacation with a homestay app providing housing to displaced people, supporting these companies is one small way to support meaningful causes in their everyday lives.
According to a study of consumer expectations in 2015, 66% of the 30,000 global poll participants stated they were willing to pay more for products and services from companies supporting social and environmental causes.
These days, consumers are far more inclined to research a company's position on social justice issues when deciding whether or not they want to give them their money. The way that brands speak up, or if they do at all, can make all the difference in whether consumers support them or boycott them.
Building a relationship with your customers
In the modern market, purchasing behaviors are dictated by far more than convenience and price.
Instead, consumers are looking to build relationships with brands they trust. The EY Future Consumer Index suggests that factors such as sustainability, social consciousness, ethical sourcing, and trustworthiness have become key indicators of consumer purchasing preferences.
The Edelman Trust Barometer states that trust is one of the highest indicators of brand loyalty, engagement, and advocacy. This means that customers will be more inclined to listen to a brand’s advertising, choose their products and services over the competition, and tell others to follow suit.
It is vital to pay attention to the values and experiences of your target customers and use that information to build a relationship with them that goes beyond buying and selling. When a company speaks up and shows its commitment to a cause relevant to its target audience, it can prove the brand to be trustworthy and strengthen the relationship between them.
In a Sproutsocial study, 36% of consumers stated that they would be more likely to purchase from a company that spoke out on topics aligning with their personal views, and 28% claimed they would be likely to praise companies on social media for it.
When speaking out, it is not enough to make a statement on social media and move on.
While many large corporations expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media following the death of George Floyd in 2020, many were criticized for failing to follow up their social media posts with legitimate change.
Many people are highly critical of corporate activism. As many as 53% of consumers perceive social justice messages by brands as performative marketing ploys. When incorporating social justice into your brand, it is important to back up your commitment to social change with real-world actions and long-term goals.
Doing it right
One brand that has been praised for its authentic approach to corporate activism is the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s.
Having used its platform for activism since 1985, when Ben & Jerry's released a public statement of support for Black Lives Matter in 2020, its consumers could trust its authenticity.
The company has raised awareness for issues ranging from LGBTQ+ rights to environmental protection, and in the past year has continued discussing racial inequality in America while many other large companies have gone back to business as usual. They have even partnered with civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick and released a new ice cream flavor called Change the Whirled.
While speaking up on social issues has become the norm for brands, it is worth a lot more to customers that can trust the companies they support to be authentic.
Making public stances without the proper research or forethought into how your company can show its commitment in a long-term way is likely to be interpreted as untrustworthy.
Instead, when speaking up on social justice issues, show a commitment to your brand and customers’ values with real-world actions. A genuine commitment will strengthen the connection between you and your customers and set you apart from the competition.