12/07/2017 Molly Moseley

Brands taking a political stance. Boom.

Early this week, President Trump issued an executive order to greatly shrink two national parks in Utah. The controversial decision is the largest rollback of protected federal land ever. In response, numerous businesses have come out against the decision, using their brand to make a political statement.

As news feeds were lighting up, I saw Patagonia post about the issue on Facebook, leading readers to their website that was redone with a stark black-and-white statement: “The President Stole Your Land.” Shortly after, I received an email from backcountry.com, urging people to protect these parks. Other outdoor recreation companies followed suit within the day.

Traditionally, brands have shied away from taking such a clear stance on political issues. Not only do they risk offending employees from various parts of the political spectrum, but they risk offending the customers who oppose their viewpoints. Taking the role of Switzerland seemed to be the best business bet.

But in today’s political climate where the country is more polarized than it has been in decades, the rules are changing. Taking a political stance is an option in the playbook, and when done right, can boost sales and brand loyalty. The key is to know your audience well, align your statements precisely with your corporate cultural beliefs and be cautious your stand doesn’t cross over into discrimination.

Modern times mean many people want to support companies that align with their values. They want to put their dollars toward a business they feel good about. A large part of this is being driven by socially conscious millennials, whose buying power grows with each passing year.

Some of the most recent examples of brands taking a stand come from the more liberal side. Target took on gay rights, numerous companies came out against Trump’s travel ban, and sponsors reacted to the NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

Conservative companies are taking a stand, too. One of the most noteworthy examples is Hobby Lobby, which cited religious reasons for not offering certain types of birth control through its health insurance programs. (This resulted in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby won.)

Another conservative example: When Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy spoke about the company supporting “the biblical definition of a family unit” in 2012, there were boycotts and protests. Despite the negatives, sales soared 12 percent.

There’s no doubt that taking a political stand as a business is a risk, particularly for small businesses. Take, for example, the Colorado baker who declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He took a stance, but it may have crossed a line into discrimination, and the Supreme Court is hearing the case this week.

While the court deliberates, he has decided to stop making wedding cakes completely, which he notes was previously 40 percent of his business. This has caused him to reduce staff size from 10 to four. The future of his business is unknown.

If businesses want to stand up for what they believe in by making a public statement, they have every right to. However, it’s important to pick the most meaningful battles, maintain relationships with key influencers and, if possible, be the first to take a stand. If you do so in a way that appeals to your target audience, you’ll stand out in a positive way that won’t soon be forgotten.

What do you think? Have you every boycotted a brand for taking a stance?

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