Gone are the days when companies can rely solely on the strength of their product to drive sales. Well, maybe not entirely, but now consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on a brand’s position on societal or political issues. According to respondents in the 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study:

  • 67 percent bought a brand for the first time based solely on its position on a controversial topic;
  • 51 percent will be loyal buyers, buying only the brand that speaks up, and buying it more often;
  • 23 percent will pay at least a 25 percent premium for a brand that supports their belief.

Belief-driven buyers not only want, but expect, brands to weigh in on issues, which introduces new dimensions of scrutiny and risk to a company. But this also means the biggest risk may be staying silent.

Without a thoughtful point of view on topics that are important to your company, it’s easy to misstep when trying to respond in the moment to controversial issue (think Pepsi-Kendall Jenner ad). Or maybe you think your response is genuine, but it is perceived as self-serving or inauthentic (think Coke-Saudi Arabia ad featuring a woman learning to drive). Edelman’s Digital Crisis practice recommends the taking the following steps to avoid such pitfalls:

  • Don’t wait until an issue comes up to determine and define your brand’s POV. Take the time now to understand what issues are important to your brand, how they affect the company, employees, and how to articulate this POV within your key audiences.
  • Be true to your brand and your people. Understand what aligns with your goals and mission as an organization, and define your position from there. Nobody wants to hear from the same company on every single issue, so pick what’s important and makes sense for your brand.
  • Plan for various scenarios. Divisive issues bring risk and uncertainty, and while you might know your POV, you can’t always predict how a situation will play out. Dedicate time to conduct scenario planning for potential risks and then put processes in place that will help protect the brand when issues arise.
  • Red-team brand POV(s) with employees and trusted advisors. It’s easy for the same group of people to feel like a position is on-brand and airtight, but additional perspectives can shed new light on unexpected red flags. Bring in objective groups (internal or external) to fully vet new company position statements or provocative ad concepts to minimize risk or potential backlash.

Neely Dockins is a senior account supervisor, Digital, Washington, D.C.