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Marketing with Conviction: Should You Take a Public Stand for Your Brand Values?


The marketing world was taken by storm recently when Nike decided to make Colin Kaepernick the face of their new campaign. If you are not aware, Kaepernick has become a controversial figure for being the leader of the NFL kneeling protests that sought to bring greater awareness of social injustice. Arguments have raged on whether or not the protests are themselves instances of patriotic engagement or disrespectful actions taken against soldiers and the flag.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let me make something clear – this article is not about politics. It isn’t about the protests themselves. It isn’t even really about Kaepernick. This post is about marketing in our modern landscape, and how this particular discussion is a perfect example of the way brands need to grow and change.

The old thinking was that it was never a good idea for a brand to jump into political discussion. I even made that exact case in a previous blog. Now, I think the topic deserves a fresh take to put it in the appropriate context.

In today’s marketplace, consumers want their brands to have conviction – to firmly stand for something. Now, that is not the same thing as saying that your brand should be diving into the fray of every political argument online at any given moment. If you tried to do that, your social media coordinator would probably get whiplash. At the same time, there is something to be said for having organizational values and being willing to stand up for them in the public sphere.

Values Supported by Action

I think part of the reason that political messages have been taboo for brands in the past is the risk of alienation. If you come out in support of a particular message, there are bound to be customers who will disagree with your stance. It’s much safer – the thinking goes – to stay quiet in the hopes of pleasing as many as possible.

The problem with that is you can never please everyone.

In today’s world, customers want to see that brands have values and that they are willing to support those values with actions. Again, this isn’t about politics, necessarily. If you feel that your brand values line up with a particular political stance, by all means, make that clear. The point is, don’t be afraid to stand up for the values of your brand, even if there might be some risk involved.

Don’t Do It Just to Do It

According to Investor’s Business Daily, Nike’s sales have increased dramatically after an initial backlash to the campaign. Why? Because for everyone who has been on social media decrying Nike’s decision, there have been others who have been reconnected to the brand by this show of values. There’s a sound argument to be made for focusing on your core fans rather than placating your fringe ones.

But your values can’t be just fodder for a marketing stunt. Consumers today will see right through this. Bottom line: don’t create values out of thin air, but do stand up for the brand values your organization was built upon.

This blog post should not be viewed as an imperative. I’m not suggesting you go out and look for a Colin Kaepernick-like situation to leverage for marketing value. What I am saying is that – if you find your brand in a situation where your values are part of a larger discussion – you shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in.

It Doesn’t Have to Be About Politics

Adweek recently posted an article that included a report from the Edelman PR firm which stated that consumer brand attention and loyalty are increasingly becoming more “belief-driven.” What does this mean? Well, it posits that consumers are looking for brands that connect to their deeply-held values in a meaningful way. It isn’t simply about practicality. I think the following from the Adweek article says it best – “Taking a stand, no matter the cause, is no longer something brands can shy away from if they want to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds.”

But taking a stand doesn’t have to be strictly political. It makes sense for a brand like Nike to use a more activist approach in their messaging. Their brand can allow for and support such a strategy. Not every brand will find themselves in the same situation.

The key point here is that the act of stating your brand values does not necessarily have to contain any messages that are remotely political. In the Adweek article linked above, Edelman CEO Richard Edelman points to campaigns like Dove’s “Real Beauty” as an example. I think it’s a good one. Campaigns such as this show us that brands don’t have to go to the extreme end of the activism/political spectrum to stand up for their brand values in the public sphere. Dove doesn’t make any controversial statements in the video, but they showcase that empowerment and love are key parts of their brand. Their values are clearly articulated.

The bottom line is that you want people to connect with your brand. They cannot do that if they feel your brand does not align with their values. So take time to work with your team on analyzing and confirming your core brand values. From there, you can begin to work on implementing those values in your overall marketing strategy.

The time to play it safe in your marketing has long since passed. While you don’t want to jump into anything prematurely, be open to opportunities to publicly declare your brand values. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart business decision.

Filed Under: Branding

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