To Take a Stand or Not to Take a Stand?

Big tent branding

Brands are under pressure to take a stand like never before. They’re worried that people will vote their politics with their pocketbooks. But while every brand needs to address this challenge, the evidence shows that in most cases they should refrain from taking sides. For one, it is rare for inflamed emotions to shift the flow of marketplace outcomes. For another, it’s not clear that brands can bear the weight of social and political burdens.

J. WALKER SMITH
Executive Chairman
Kantar Futures
JWalker.Smith@thefuturescompany.com

Research about brand boycotts is mixed. Highly focused, well-funded, sustained national boycotts can have a meaningful impact on brands, but the vast majority of boycotts don’t operate this way. In aggregate, only about one-quarter of such efforts get any concessions from the company they target.

The more obvious problem for brands is that taking sides limits growth opportunities. Think about the numbers for a moment. Politicians can win with the narrowest of margins. It only takes one vote. But brands have to keep adding more and more customers in order to grow. Generally speaking, they cannot afford to estrange a large portion of their potential customer base, even over issues that are passionate concerns for many consumers.

As Kantar Worldpanel has found, brands grow by increasing penetration. They create a franchise not by squeezing more out of a small niche of like-minded consumers, but by bringing disparate consumers together. By and large, niche brands are just small brands with a few customers, not brands that are differentiated in kind. Successful brands must appeal across the board. They have to bring together as many different people as possible— or they risk staying small with limited appeal and potential.

Bringing people together is also a better approach if brands have the public good in mind. As a result, they should look for common ground that unites their potential customers rather than pick sides on contentious and confrontational issues.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they should stand idly by if immoral, dissolute movements threaten the shared welfare of society and community. Compromising ethics is not an option. But they should look first to unite, both out of self-interest and in the interest of the common good.

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