Do you want to take a stand?

May 17, 2017

take a standThe Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage dominated the news, social media and most conversations when it was announced.  Regardless of where you stood on the topic – you couldn’t help but be immersed in it.  And that wasn’t true for just individuals but, interestingly, for businesses as well. Many of them made a point to take a stand on this issue.

There used to be an unwritten rule that businesses stayed out of political and social discussions.  Unless the issue was one that united the entire country, like World War II – businesses kept their heads down and just stayed focused on business.

But times have changed and consumers have made it clear that they want to do business with organizations that share their values.  It’s as though a third element has been added to the buying decision.  Consumers are driven by their emotions when it comes to any purchase.  That emotion is often tempered or inflamed by facts or features. But today, those two buying elements are influenced by the world around us. Consumer’s beliefs and values are having a bigger and bigger impact on how they perceive and interact with brands.

In the past, we’ve seen lots of brands embrace causes that are tied to their product/service like Avon’s fight against breast cancer or Dawn’s support of wildlife affected by oil spills and other disasters.  But all of that seems pretty safe in comparison to taking a stand on a controversial issue.

In recent history, we saw both Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby take a strong stance on social issues and that decision both cost them and earned them customers who were either aligned or repelled by their position.  In some ways, it’s the essence of branding – show your heart and attract your sweet spot customers who believe as you believe and will value you even more because of that connection.

Many brands spoke out when the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage came out. They quickly reacted to the decision and came out to show their support of the ruling within hours of the announcement being made.

There are a myriad of marketing lessons to be taken from that decision and the responses to that huge societal event.

Your company has a heart: Only you/your leadership team can decide if you want to take a stand and on what issue.  But recognize that whether you speak out or not – there are issues that matter to you and your organization. You’ll have to decide if that should be a part of your company’s public persona or not. The risks are real but so are the rewards of attracting and connecting with people who share your values.

It can’t just be for show: If you’re going to step out of the shadows and express an opinion on a social or societal issue – you need to truly own it.  These are vital topics to your audience and any sign of you being in the fight just for appearances or financial gain will bite you in a big way.

A mile wide versus an inch deep: You can’t fight every fight. And odds are, you don’t have a strong conviction for every fight. You also don’t want to be perceived as a brand that just runs from cause to cause, trying to capitalize on them all.  These kinds of issues are typically very complicated and take a long time to resolve.  If you truly want to affect change (otherwise, don’t get into the fight), know you’re in it for the long haul.

Bottom line – it’s your call. But if you’re going to take a stand, remember that you need to be smart about which issues should earn your resources and your reputation.

 

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Feminism as a Marketing Trend

January 4, 2017

Feminism

This time of year is ripe for trend reports and because it’s important to our work with clients, I’ve been digging through many of them to identify recurring themes. There’s one theme that has really caught my eye and seems to be something that should be on every businessperson’s radar screen. I believe we’re at the beginning of a groundswell (perhaps because of the recent election) that is going to only get louder and more powerful. The trend I’m referring to, believe it or not, is feminism.

I imagine you just glanced at the paper to see if you’d suddenly been transformed back to 1840. Perhaps I should call this a re-trend but that doesn’t negate its importance. In the 1840s it was about the right to vote and in the 1960s it was largely about the right to have more options professionally because at that time only 38% of American women worked outside the home and they had very limited choices in terms of careers.

But today’s feminism seems to have a very different slant. First, it’s global, rather than just US based. Second, it appears to be much broader in scope and influence. There’s not as much focus on one specific problem but instead, it’s about the whole of a person and the core concept of equality. Third, women and men are not combatants in this go around. In fact, men are increasingly being invited to the party, as true members of the cause. Emma Watson’s speech at the U.N. (Google it and watch it – she’s brilliant) put the international spotlight on the solidarity movement for gender equality. It’s worth noting that the program Watson introduced in 2015, HeForShe, is being sponsored by JP Morgan Chase.

The fight feels less antagonistic and more about the simple logic that equality makes sense and seems reasonable to expect in this day and age. Obviously, I’m simplifying the issues greatly and I know that women across the globe still face some horrific situations, but overall, the spirit of the fight feels more collaborative and open to all supporters.

Whether you are aligned with this new edition of feminism or not, it’s quickly weaving itself into our world in some interesting ways that as marketers, we need to watch.

Empowerment: I think empowerment is a word that is overused and probably often misused. But in this case, it’s about celebrating and selling the idea that women can do and be anything they choose. Toy manufacturers like GoldieBox are championing girl engineers and coders with their STEM-based toys and movies like Disney’s Frozen celebrate women helping each other, rather than being rescued by a prince. Both examples were out of the box megahits – meaning that their themes resonated with consumers in a significant way.

Gender neutral: We’re moving into an era where we consciously stop defining something as being made for a boy or a girl. President Obama created quite a discussion in December 2014 when he went out of his way to put toys that would have traditionally been earmarked for boys into the girls’ toy pile during a Toys for Tots appearance. Clothing manufacturers, especially those aiming at young adult consumers, have been purposefully developing clothing styles without defining who should or should not wear them.

Why should this be on your radar screen? I believe every marketer should be checking their own gender bias as they roll out new marketing initiatives. Our audiences, both men and women, will have far less tolerance for stereotypes that minimize either gender. Not only that, but I suspect consumers will reward those companies who go out of their way to recognize and celebrate equality in all it’s shapes and forms to a growing degree.

Marketer beware – the landscape is changing and you don’t want to be out of touch.

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