Companies as political actors - a new challenge for communicators?
Corporate social responsibilitybrand purpose and now: brand activism. Another one of those English buzzwords that only a few people really know what to do with. Here's an attempt at a little explanation for the vocabulary book: Brand activism is the term we use to describe actions in which companies actively communicate their opinions on socially relevant issues to the outside world.
In other words, companies take a stand in the socio-political discourse - and often receive a lot of praise for doing so.
Best practices on the doorstep
Brand activism is not a new hype from the marketing world. Since the 1960s, companies have been venturing out of their comfort zone in the area of corporate communications. Both internally and externally, they consciously take a stance on issues that primarily have little in common with the actual purpose of the company.
More recent examples are provided by companies that are located right under our noses at our Hamburg site. The lemonade manufacturer Fritz Kola, for example. Managing Director Mirco Wolf Wiegert explains on the company's own website what is particularly important to him: "Opening your mouth and taking a stance." And the Hamburg-based company proves this in numerous campaigns, for example at the G20 summit in Hamburg or during the U.S. presidential elections.
At local competitor LemonAid & ChariTea e.V., the idea of non-profit is already in their name. Last year, the beverage company engaged in a public dispute with Julia Klöckner over minimum sugar levels in sodas. The debate about sugar guidelines became a major topic in the media, not only because of the"sugar doll"- a figure of Klöckner made of sugar, set up in front of the ministry.
The fact that there are not always exclusively supporters of these actions is shown by reactions to the current"Attention, low sugar"campaign. LemonAid is currently labeling its bottles with stickers in the style of cigarette warnings. In trade and industry associations, this message is seen as nothing more than self-profiling. So has LemonAid gone too far with its actionism?
Some say this, others say that....
Brand Activism is not about pleasing everyone. Rather, controversy is deliberately sought out, often through polarizing messages. In the process, other opinions must be endured and the consequences accepted, for example in the form of boycotts.But why should a company take the risk of scaring away potential target groups?
For consumers, values and attitudes are a growing factor in the purchase of products. Focusing solely on product aspects in marketing and corporate communications will no longer help a company win against the competition. Instead, stakeholders are looking for meaning and authenticity. This must be taken into account as part of comprehensive reputation and stakeholder management. In Germany, for example, 82 percent of consumers expect brands to act as a moral compass for society in the Corona crisis.
The Edelman Trust Barometer of recent years even shows that more and more people recognize the potential for companies to solve socially critical problems. 87 percent of the population therefore want companies to address social issues. Communicating political attitudes can consequently become a real opportunity to meet these expectations and thus strengthen loyalty and reputation.
Taking a stance, but how?
If you are now wondering what the potential topics for taking action might be, all you need to do is take a look at the newspaper. Ex-Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser has perfected this strategy. On Twitter, he reviews world events relating to sea rescue, Donald Trump and the AfD.
It gets more difficult when the question of "how" comes up: How can a sensitive, highly emotional social problem become a corporate issue? What is the right position for my company? What tone of voice is appropriate? And how can you be prepared for the reactions? Here are a few ways to think about it:
- Relevance: companies need to address the issues that are critical to both internal and external stakeholders. The big buzzwords here are: Trend monitoring and dialogue management.
- Credibility: when companies address issues, the message must fit the company's personality and corporate values. Loud and polarizing messages are more likely to be suitable for already outspoken and colorful corporate brands. Conventional, traditional companies should look for their own ways to take a stand.
- Integrality: brand activism intersects with almost all communicative disciplines, which are still divided into different departments, especially within larger companies. To send credible messages, everyone must be pulling on the same string, telling the same story.
- Risks: reactions to the message are going to follow. But will they be more positive or negative? Or will a heated discussion spark right away? In terms of comprehensive crisis prevention , companies should analyze all possible scenarios in advance and prepare for them in terms of content and structure in order to be able to react in a flexible way.
- Relevance: although everything should be well thought out and prepared, momentum should not be missing. Social media debates in particular are quickly yesterday's news. In this day and age, stakeholders expect communicators to be up to date.
Companies should be aware of one thing: Those who pursue brand activism for the management of their own corporate brand consciously decide to steer into troubled waters and make big waves. To do this, they need a functioning compass that is aligned with their own corporate values in order to stay on course in the turbulent waters between new events and opinions.
Either way, communicators will have to adapt to increasingly difficult situations in the future. But the effort seems worthwhile - companies can make a real difference by taking a stand.