Nike recently took a huge risk by signing National Football League free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick to an advertising deal. Shortly after the first ad aired, people who disagreed with the move started calling for boycotts of Nike and posting videos of themselves destroying their Nike gear.
This was a calculated gamble for the sports apparel company, but it was one they believed was worth taking.
Let's look at four lessons we can learn from Nike's deal with Kaepernick and apply to our own brands.
1. Showing up on the right side of history counts.
We as a society are currently cleansing ourselves of symbols from the past that represent people who had objectionable beliefs that are not worthy of celebration. Just like we are looking back on these people and judging them, people in the future will look back on us and pass judgement on our symbols and who we celebrate.
People from the past who were on the side of slavery are slowly having their monuments taken down and while there are a few protests, this is largely seen as the right thing to do and will be celebrated in the future as a sign of progress.
Nike wants to be on the right side of history here. Considering that they haven't always been on the right side of history, particularly in regard to their manufacturing processes, this is a crucial stand for them to take as a brand.
Being on the right side of history influenced a decision from my own company. We recently sponsored a fundraising event that collected money for children taken from their parents when they crossed the United States/Mexican border.
At first, we weren't sure if we wanted to get involved in something like that since it was extremely political, but we knew it was the right thing to do and when we look back on it years from now, we want to know that we made the right decision.
2. Knowing your demographics makes taking risks easier.
As has been pointed out right here on Inc., Nike's customers are largely young and they skew more liberal, meaning it was a bit less of a risk for them to cut a deal with Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality against African-American men, a stance many of their core demographic would likely get behind.
I've written before about how supporting a cause can be beneficial for your company as long as you pick the right one, namely one that most of your customers also agree with. It's not always easy to pick the right one, but by digging into the demographics of your customers, you can get a sense of what will work. You're especially in luck if your demographics skew younger since a majority of Millennials want brands to take a stand on issues, according to a 2017 poll about belief-driven customers.
This is yet another crucial reason to know who you are selling to. If you are going to publicly take a stand, especially about a controversial subject, it is imperative that you understand how much of a backlash you may face from your customers. In our case, we didn't get any. We only received positive praise for what we did.
3. It can strengthen the right relationships.
Conventional branding wisdom says brands should stay out of politics and not take a side one way or the other. Here's a side: conventional branding wisdom is wrong. Or, at least, it can be. New generations of consumers are showing us that taking a stand is not a bad thing and can actually be good for your brand's bottom line.
It can also help portray the brand in a positive light with your customers and your own employees and suppliers and have the added benefit of pushing away people who you would rather not be associated with your brand. Your relationship with the people who believe in your message will strengthen, making them more committed to your brand. Sacrificing a few customers or suppliers who are not on board may not be such a bad thing.
4. Taking a stand might enhance your brand.
Taking a stand on something might fit within your brand's purview. In Nike's case, their "Just do it" campaign is about showing courage in the face of adversity, so using Kaepernick fits with the messaging.
An outdoor adventure company would benefit from taking a stand on any environmental issues, and a company whose customer demographic is largely in the LGBTQ community could take advantage of showing support for that community on a political issue.
It doesn't make sense for every brand to take a stance on every issue, but there are opportunities out there to let your brand voice be heard and reap the benefits of being heard.