“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” — Desmond Tutu

There has been a lot of turmoil in the world lately, and as a human I’m sure you’ve noticed it and discussed it with others. Have you done the same as a brand? Should you? If so, how?

As a small business owner with more spinning plates than you can likely handle in a normal world, it can be tempting to keep silent as a brand and stay out of it. But that strategy, business as usual, is a statement in itself to your audience, whether you intend it to be or not.

Consumers today, more than ever, want to support brands who have values that they understand, share, and respect. Transparency matters, so let’s dive into figuring out when to take a stand and how to do it effectively for your brand.

Deciding If You Should Take A Stand

The first, most important question to ask yourself when trying to decide if the issue at hand is one you want to take a stand on is this: “Does this issue impact my customers, my employees, or my community?” If you can confidently say no, then it might just be a personal issue that you care about but don’t necessarily need to involve your brand. And that’s ok…we’re not here to say you should take a stand on every single issue in the world.

But if you’re even a little unsure or can confidently say yes to that question, then the right thing to do is to take a stand. Because remember, business with today’s consumers is no longer transactional. Consumers associate and buy from small businesses that they care about, feel a sense of belonging with, understand, and respect. They want to know your brand cares about them as people…and to care about them as people is to care about the broad issues that impact them.

The second question is, “Do you have a point of view?” Now, this one can be hard at times…because at first you may not. Or at the very least it may be unclear. But at the end of the day people want to know what side you’re on when it comes to societal issues that impact them. So, take the time to really think through your point of view and try to be objective to understand which parts of it people may disagree with or may be confusing.

The clearer you can get on your perspective the better. Because there WILL be people who disagree. And there WILL be people who push back. And you likely will lose some followers and customers. But if you’re clear on your point of view and can stand behind it with conviction then that’s ok. You can handle the disagreement, push back, and potential loss of customers (see sidebar, page 92). Because remember, if certain customers don’t have the same values as your brand, they’re likely not your ideal consumer anyway.

When Nike took a stand with Colin Kapernick in 2018, the media was abuzz with how many customers they would lose and how much it would damage the brand. And it did create controversy and cost them customers. Yet a year later Nike reported a 31% increase in sales. In an interview with Fast Company, Nike founder Phil Knight said:

It doesn’t matter how many people hate your brand as long as enough people love it and as long as you have that attitude, you can’t be afraid of offending people. You can’t try and go down the middle of the road. You have to take a stand on something, which is ultimately I think why the Kaepernick ad worked.

Whether or not you agree with Nike and Kapernick, this is evidence that taking a stand on something that matters, while risky, can also benefit your brand when done right.

By taking a stand and having your voice heard you will attract more of your core target consumer over time, which is more valuable to your brand over the long term. When brands and consumers share values, loyalty develops and deepens.

Once you’re clear on these two questions, it’s time to put values before profits, and take a stand.

How To Take A Stand –  Making A Statement

When it comes to taking a stand, there are three key components to consider: what you’re going to say, what you’re going to do, and how to show your support on an ongoing basis. When it comes to all three of these areas though, remember…you don’t have to have the answers. While it’s important to play your part in making the world a better place related to the issue at hand, no one is expecting you to be an expert or be able to solve it for all of society.

First, let’s talk about the statement itself, or, what you’re going to say on behalf of your brand. In any statement you make, whether on social media, your website, a press release, or publicly, it’s important that you identify the issue, acknowledge its impact, clearly state your point of view, and indicate what actions you will be taking beyond making the statement. If you can tie it into your brand story or values, that is also a great way to exhibit authenticity and deeper value-driven roots.

When it comes to writing the statement, pay close attention to word choice, tone, and branding. Use your judgment and avoid overly dramatic or offensive language and alienating tones. All of this will depend on the topic at hand, of course, but keep your brand voice present according to your brand voice guidelines (which should always have a separate section on how your brand voice comes to life in difficult situations – if you need a refresher check out this past article or take a full course on brand story and voice.)

And do your research…read a few recent articles on the specific topic you’re addressing and search for any content related to brands commenting on the topic. While what other brands are saying shouldn’t influence your statement it can turn up some nuances of how to best craft your statement to avoid unintended consequences. If you recall, when everyone started posting black squares to their social media profiles to show support for Black Lives Matter, many also included the #blacklivesmatter or #BLM hashtag. If you had done even the littlest bit of searching before posting though, you would avoid the backlash that so many brands and people got for including that hashtag given all the black squares were drowning out the people using that hashtag as the way it had previously been used and intended – to communicate important information on the #BLM topic. Making a statement is not the time to move fast, do your due diligence before publishing to avoid unfortunate missteps.

How To Take A Stand — Taking Real Action

Next, it’s important that your brand does something beyond making a statement. Words are great, action is better. And remember this action that you plan to take should always be included in your statement as well. When it comes to taking a stand there are lots of options to consider…and you can do one, some, or all depending on how invested your brand is in this particular issue.

Consider making a sizeable donation to an organization who is making a positive difference in helping solve the issue. Just make sure to do your research on the organization first. Another action step could be to host a fundraiser or be a sponsor of a community event related to this cause. In some instances, an action could be changing your operating policies or procedures to better address or support the issue at hand. This could be something like your hiring practices or the way you operate your tasting room. In other instances, you may want to support a specific underrepresented or unfairly treated group of people by creating feature content or creating a platform to help drive more traffic to their businesses. The options are endless and really depend on the topic, but the important takeaway is to take action and make it known what action you plan to take in your statement.

How To Take A Stand — Showing Continued Support

Lastly, it’s important to have a plan to continue to show support related to the issue you are taking a stand on. Making one statement and one donation and then never mentioning it or showing any support again is a start, but it doesn’t truly show conviction. This issue likely isn’t going to disappear overnight, so your support of it shouldn’t either. This can be as easy as regularly creating space for dialogue around the topic on your social media channels, having a series of content related to it, making continued statements about it when there are new events related to it in the news, or dedicating a portion of your sales from a specific product to the cause for the foreseeable future, etc. On that last one though, just make sure all of your messaging around it is cause first, sales second to ensure it doesn’t come off as trying to capitalize on an unfortunate situation. If done right though, it can be well received and highly effective for raising money.

You don’t ever want to be seen as an inauthentic brand who jumped on the hot topic of the moment but doesn’t actually care about it. If it impacted your consumers, employees, or community when you first made the statement it likely still is impacting them. Showing continued support and creating safe spaces for continued dialogue is an important part of making a stand, so make sure you have a plan in place to do exactly that.

Taking a stand on something that at times can feel far removed from your business, but impacts society as a whole can be scary. But staying silent is often far more harmful to your brand than stepping up on issues that truly matter. There is, of course, some judgment involved, but sharing your values and speaking up will not only benefit society, but ultimately your brand as well. Together, all of our voices are louder and more impactful…so stand up for what you believe in and position your brand as a constructive part of the conversation and solution.

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Karen Locke is founder of High-Proof Creative (highproofcreative.com), an award-winning branding and marketing agency for the craft spirits industry. She is author of “High-Proof PDX: A Spirited Guide to Portland’s Craft Distilling Scene” was a food and drink writer, and worked at marketing agencies for nearly 10 years prior to launching High-Proof Creative. Karen has been published by GQ magazine, Bon Appétit, Sip Northwest, and more. Karen joined the Women’s Distillery Guild as a board member in 2018, and currently serves on the board of the Portland Culinary Alliance. She is also member of the Women of the Vine & Spirits.