Giving your brand a point of view can be polarizing, but it's also one of the fastest ways to stand out in a noisy world.
While your strong brand position may alienate some, it can turn current and prospective customers into brand supporters and advocates. Case in point: Ben & Jerry's.
Many brands play it safe by being as vanilla as possible on issues like social justice or the environment, but the famous ice cream brand is not afraid to take a stance on serious topics. Chris Miller, the activism manager at Ben & Jerry's, believes activism is good for brands and for business.
Here are his top four tips for doing it effectively:
1. Branding to your beliefs
Some entrepreneurs may think of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as superfluous, but CEOs are starting to see its power to produce profits.
According to the 2016 PWC's Global CEO survey, 64 percent of CEOs say, "CSR is core to their business..." The PWC report also states that when there is a high level of trust in a company, it tends to drives business performance by attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.
"At this time, with the rise of millennial consumers, the impact of digital and social channels, and the push for transparency, I think it's way better to be loved by some people than inoffensive to everyone," says Miller.
Miller quotes Ben & Jerry's co-founder Jerry Greenfield, who believed "the strongest bonds you can build with your customers are over shared values." These bonds, Miller asserts, are hard to break.
2. Socially conscious content
Taking on environmental causes, LGBTQ rights and, most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement, has been a Ben & Jerry's hallmark since the company's founding in 1978.
"Our vision," Miller asserts, "is to use the power of the business to advance progressive social change." Miller draws a careful distinction between what his company does and so-called cause-related marketing.
"A typical cause-related marketing campaign starts with 'who are my consumers and what do they care about'?" says Miller. "We start with our values and beliefs and inspire our fans and consumers to take action."
In deciding what issues to address, Ben & Jerry's refers to the company's core progressive value statement. "They provide the guardrails around what we do and don't do," Miller explains. For him, the most exciting and innovative aspect of their approach is bringing their corporate values to life digitally."
3. A cause and its effects
Ben & Jerry's socially conscious approach to marketing recently led them to support a cause few companies were willing to take on: the Black Lives Matter movement. Miller acknowledges that the company's statement in support of Black Lives Matter was
"controversial, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive."
Ben & Jerry's offered up an opinion piece on their blog and then linked to it from Twitter and Facebook. Miller estimates that fewer than 10 percent of the comments the company received were negative. The post earned the notice and support of influencers like Katy Perry, Mark Ruffalo and Jack Dorsey, and was re-tweeted more than 65,000, according to Miller.
Social engagement, Miller notes, isn't just for big brands: "This is work any company can do. Things like writing an op-ed in a local paper in support of paid family leave and medical leave, or raising the minimum wage."
4. Be prepared for backlash
You must be properly prepared for negative sentiment that may come as a result of taking a controversial position. However, even negative backlash can increase a company's bottom line.
Just look at Chick fil-A in 2011. The chain's president, Dan Cathy, announced his opposition to gay marriage. There were boycotts, and a slew of bad press and online vitriol. Consumer use, visits, and advertising awareness for Chick fil-A all rose measurably in the third quarter that year, according to a Sandelman and Assoc. survey.
"Today, for better or for worse, corporations are the most powerful entities in society. That's a responsibility and an opportunity for us as companies and business leaders to advocate for the kind of change we want to make in the world," says Miller.