Levi's, Patagonia and Nike are doing it, and customers are responding. They're taking a stand and using their business to promote or support causes they believe their customers believe in. Is it a smart marketing move or an act of corporate suicide?

People like Kevin O'Leary feel you need to focus on your business before using it as a platform for activism. Others, like Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea, often see market opportunities in activism while others feel that if you're going to take a stand with your business, it's more important to make a difference rather than to make a point.

Bottom line, in today's world, it's not enough for you to sell a product or service. Customers are expecting you to take a position on social and political issues in order to earn their business and loyalty. Millennials and centennials, especially, show a preference for brands that stand for something, 61 percent according to research by Kantar Consulting. The findings also show that this preference increases drastically when a company not only takes a point of view, but also has a tangible positive impact.

That's not all. More than half, a total 56 percent, of Generation Z consider themselves socially-conscious and more than 50 percent report knowing a brand is socially-conscious influences their purchasing decisions. According to a new report, from MNI Targeted Media, a division of Meredith Corp., this demographic influences $4 billion in discretionary spending, and according to MNI, it's worth paying attention to their habits and needs.

How can you appeal to your audience without potentially alienating some customers, especially those who feel your company's stance doesn't align with their values? You may not. And that's okay.

Why Companies Not Taking a Stand Need to Sit Down

When companies try to be everything to everyone, they don't stick out. They're not memorable. They operate in the sidelines. Those who want to connect with their customers need to meet them where they are. Companies need to stand up and tell them what they stand for and let their customers decide whether they want to support them by giving them their business.

It's not necessary to choose a political stance that can alienate current customers and prospective customers, even those that might actually agree with your stance. There are so many social issues that you'd be hard-pressed to find people disagreeing, even if it may not be their hot button issue.

Choosing something to support as a company is part of building a brand. Are you a food-based company that cares about nutrition? Consider supporting local food initiatives that focus on nutrition. Are you a consultant? Are environmental issues important to you? Consider sharing interesting environmental articles and ways people can get involved in their communities.

What issues matter to your audience? Take the time to ask them. They'll tell you. Support them and they'll support you.

Brands no longer have the luxury of not engaging with their customers and expect their business. Customers, especially millennials and Gen Z, have high expectations and want to know with whom they're doing business. They want to engage with businesses, no longer satisfied with blindly supporting businesses whose missions are in stark contract with their values.

Make it easy for customers to support you and let them know what you stand for. They'll either stand with you, or not. Those who do may reward you not only with their business, but advertise their support by telling their friends and social networks, too.

Published on: May 15, 2018