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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Brands taking a stand: Five critical tips for getting it right

Silence is no longer the reliable strategy it once was—but speaking up in the wrong way can trigger a painful consumer backlash.

Brands taking a stand: Five critical tips for getting it right
[terovesalainen / Adobe Stock]

In the past, no one would have expected or even wanted a consumer brand to share their thoughts on social issues, but the world has changed. Many of today’s shoppers (particularly younger demographics) want the companies they buy products from to take a stand when it comes to the issues they care about.

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Silence is no longer the reliable strategy it once was—but speaking up in the wrong way can trigger a painful consumer backlash. Brands are now faced with the increasingly tricky problem of choosing when and how to make their stances known.

It’s not enough to decide to take a public position; for brands that truly want to connect with socially conscious consumers, it’s all about the message itself.

Here are five tips for brands to successfully share their support.

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1. AUTHENTICITY MATTERS

Insincere marketing has become its own red flag for consumers. So-called “woke-washing” efforts by brands that aren’t authentic with their values can lead people to question everything a brand claims to stand for.

Authenticity is the most critical aspect of a brand’s messaging when it comes to issues consumers care about. A brand should authentically care enough to speak up, and doing so should be authentically aligned with its mission and purpose. Otherwise, shallow brand advocacy risks alienating audiences—particularly when it’s clear a brand is trying to capitalize on sensitive issues.

2. AVOID BANDWAGONING

Brands should avoid jumping in on the latest topic until their message has meaning. If a public statement can be easily dismissed as low-cost tokenism, it’s probably better to take a step back and reconsider. Before joining the hashtag crowd by sending out that post, brands should ask themselves whether the big picture of their brand truly matches the messaging they’re pushing online.

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3. NEGATIVE LANGUAGE ISN’T REQUIRED

Even when addressing difficult topics, brands don’t have to adhere to negative tones in their messaging. Realistic and pragmatic language regarding real human crises can coexist with hope and optimism, with brands leaning into what they’re doing to help.

Another effective option to shape support in a way that inspires is by partnering with influencers, particularly those focused on promoting specific causes and movements in a positive way.

4. PARTNER WITH SOCIAL MEDIA CREATORS

Social media creators/influencers have built up trust and credibility with their followers, paving the way for effective outreach that’s designed to share brand missions and values. Influencer marketing is most commonly associated with promoting products, but it’s a smart strategy for deepening targeted brand awareness and associations.

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The best influencers don’t just parrot an existing brand message, they contribute to a brand with everything they bring to the table. Unlock their full potential by keeping messaging prompts flexible and allowing influencers to use their own audience-centric language and imagery to spread the word.

5. PICK YOUR BATTLES

Most people now want brands to speak up and help ignite change. But those who simply jump on the latest hot topic should do so with the knowledge that it could shed a negative light on all of the other times they remained silent. (Or worse, it will come across as insincere or unnecessarily polarizing.)

Truly, the best way for brands to share their values is through the actions they take as a business. However, brands should not shy away from the chance to spark valuable conversations that showcase what they’re authentically doing to help their communities. With the right approach, speaking up can inspire positive brand sentiments and even lifelong loyalty.

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CEO at Sway Group

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