Which side are you on? What do you think? In business, as in politics, having a clear point of view is one of the best ways to demonstrate authenticity from a branding standpoint. Think about Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's, or Toms Shoes. They've made their values crystal clear and it's only increased their popularity.
Having an opinion can help your brand stick out from the pack, but authenticity can be good for your health as well.
Consider the polygraph test. The polygraph shows significant changes in physiological responses: a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, and increased perspiration --the physical manifestations of stress. The truth may not set you free, but it help you feel better about yourself, your brand, and the times in which we live.
Flip the Script
Now before you bring up Hobby Lobby or Chick Fil-A, let me point out that your point of view doesn't have to be political. As Seth Godin wrote in the book Tribes, "...heretics, troublemakers and change agents aren't merely thorns in our side, they are the keys to our success."
Consider the most polarizing people in your industry --the opinionated influencers who can divide a room. Think about why they elicit such strong reactions. Their take often goes straight to their customers' greatest views, concerns, fears, and desires.
Sometimes, influencers get dismissed as troublemakers, naysayers and heretics. And sometimes, they debunk the prevailing wisdom and change the face of marketing, or even revolutionize an entire industry.
You can have the biggest "tribe" in the world, but if you can't motivate your followers to act when you need them, what's the point? It's not about wrangling the tribe, it's about anticipating the reaction to your message and managing it before it spreads on traditional and social media.
Ride the Wave of Sudden Relevance
Most brands don't elicit that much passion from their customers and are understandably cautious about sticking their metaphorical necks out. What they don't realize is that they can be relevant without being political. There are other ways to take advantage of your brand stumbling into the spotlight. Take what happened to Jell-O™ recently.
Content expert and fellow Inc.com columnist David Beebe says, "Jell-O is a storied brand, steeped in pop culture, but is struggling." But the sixties staple just got a burst of free publicity, courtesy of Chuck Schumer's infamous quote, "Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O."
"Could #Jell-O get its jiggle back if it was listening to data and trending news in real time and started publishing creative and content on social at the speed of culture?" asks Beebe. "Or should it sit this one out? This isn't about politics, or your point of view on the shutdown. Political stories are hard to engage with, but the brand has been pulled into it. It's not like they're trying to inject themselves into a story. If they stay silent, they stay irrelevant."
What an opportunity for Jell-O (especially the orange flavor) to indulge in a little newsjacking. With a little creativity, Jell-O take advantage of the sudden attention without having to choose between Trump and Schumer. Hopefully, they're set up to respond quickly: It's not likely they will be inserted back into the zeitgeist again anytime soon.
Real Time for Real Relevance
In my book, SPIKE Your Brand, I talk about this real-time phenomenon and how brands can make themselves relevant during specific moments in time. Focusing on the when is a way brands can win in the game of content saturation and standout. Do you know what hot buttons you can push for your company and how to be strategic about whether and when to insert your brand into the conversation?
Make it a priority to understand how clients and stockholders perceive your brand. Conduct a little informal research. Talk to your customers and colleagues and ask them what they think. They are much more likely to give you the leeway to take on difficult subjects if you demonstrate candor, curiosity, and openness.
If you can anticipate what people will say, and get ahead of their concerns in traditional and social media, you won't have to worry so much about being polarizing. Instead, focus on the customers that really care about what you have to say. Better to engage those in your audience interested in what you have to say than do nothing and engage no one.