Allen Adamson

Co-Founder & Managing Partner

Three Ways to Successfully Manage Your Brand Through Our Divisive Political Times

That we live in politically divisive times is a harsh reality. Every day brings a news story that only seems to widen this divide. Hard as it is for individuals to carefully navigate relationships with family and friends, it’s becoming equally challenging for brands and their constituencies. Given the increasing number of incidents, it’s no longer “if” your brand will be pulled into a tricky situation, but more likely “when” you’ll be put into a position of having to choose sides, appeasing some stakeholders while infuriating others.

This said, when it does happen, how do you steer clear of the hazards, knowing that customers, employees, and Wall Street all have to be carefully taken into consideration? Here are three smart strategies to help you manage your brand through these politically turbulent times.

Start from the inside out

It’s essential to clarify what your brand stands for, and what you believe in as an organization. To do this you must establish the three or four signature values that define your brand and use them as your navigational North Star during good times and, more important, challenging times. Your company leaders and your employees must be able to embrace these values and understand what it takes to live them. This means that both your leadership and your employees must be instrumental in establishing these values.


This should not be seen as a feel-good exercise relegated to the Human Resources department, nor a laundry list of aspirational behaviors, laminated and hung up on conference room walls. Signature values that can guide you through a political storm must be acknowledged as credible, memorable, and actionable. Instituting from the get-go what your brand stands for, being able to gauge which political  issues and subsequent actions are in alignment with your brand’s values, will help ensure they are genuinely meaningful to your key constituents. With brand values as a North Star, it will be far easier to withstand the constant buffeting, the political storm du jour, and protect your brand from the inevitable volatility.


For example, Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand, made a decision last December to add a black landing page to its e-commerce site with the simple message: “The President Stole Your Land,” immediately after the Trump Administration reduced the size of Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. This was just one of the many strategic business decisions undertaken by the brand in support of environmental activism, a decision very much in alignment with its – and its customers’ - values.


Act more. Talk less


Consumers increasingly expect companies and brands to take a stand on cultural and political issues, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies and brands to stay out of the conversation. But to be convincing, it’s not conversation that will satisfy consumer expectations. When it comes to brands and branding, actions have always spoken louder than words. Now truer than perhaps at any other time. A full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal expounding on a position will no longer suffice.

To have tangible impact requires tangible action - a strategic shift in the way business is done. For example, just recently, Walmart stepped forcefully into the national gun debate, saying it would stop selling ammunition that can be used in military assault rifles, that it would discourage its customers from openly carrying guns in its stores and that it would call on Congress to increase background checks and consider a new assault rifle ban. Walmart said it made the decision after weeks of discussion and research about how to respond after a gunman killed 22 people in its store in El Paso. While the fact that Walmart serves Americans in every socio-economic arena was not lost on the retailer in its decision-making process, its chief executive, Douglas McMillon, stated in an interview, “As we’ve seen before, these horrific events occur and then the spotlight fades. We should not allow that to happen.”


Let the sunshine in


Like it or not, the transformative power of digital technology has made everything transparent. Everyone can see what everyone else is doing and saying. Once you’ve established your brand values, committed to actions in support of these values, know full well that everything you are doing from the C suites on down will be seen and shared. Take advantage of this. Let people see who you are and what you believe in. Generation Z (the post millennials) is among the most active groups in using social media to voice their opinions and gather support for issues. Take a page out of their playbook.


As the world continues to become even more politically fraught, and more divisive, it may be impossible for brands to stay out of the maelstrom. Taking a stand based on what your brand stands for is not an option for companies today, but possibly a requirement of doing business. This means that brand leaders need to be strategically thoughtful and absolutely credible when addressing an issue that has an impact on constituents, be it customers, employees or Wall Street. Everyone, inside and out, must know what the brand stands for and the brand must be ready and able to respond quickly, transparently, with actions in alignment with its acknowledged values.

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

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