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Three Questions Marketers Should Ask Themselves When Responding to Social Issues

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INFLUENCER: The decision-making starts, as most good ones do, with being authentic, writes Adlucent's Laura Russell
Three Questions Marketers Should Ask Themselves When Responding to Social Issues

As the news cycles continue to churn with global health updates and calls for social justice, social media feeds are filled with polarising views. As a result, many brand marketers are questioning how best to participate. 

In July, the Stop Hate for Profit campaign drove a boycott of major advertisers on the site, based on what it viewed as inadequate enforcement of hate speech on the platform. It enlisted more than a thousand companies to halt advertising that month, with Unilever broadening its boycott to include Instagram and Twitter and go through the end of the year. While Coca-Cola, Starbucks and others joined Unilever’s move, smaller advertisers, looking for a way to reach customers online, more than stepped in. Facebook said revenues over the first three weeks of July remained in sync with the second quarter’s robust (and Covid-19 driven) revenue growth of 10 percent. 

These are volatile times given the ongoing coronavirus and November presidential elections. Other advertiser boycotts will likely arise again with business and consumer responses equally as challenging to predict.

As marketers size up their responses to this environment, many are fearful of inadvertent missteps, like posting a well-meaning but awkwardly phrased statement of support. There are a few simple questions marketers can ask themselves to help determine their response to these transformative social events. The decision-making starts, as most good ones do, with being authentic.


What is authentic to the brand? 

Consumers can suss out inauthenticity pretty quickly, so do some soul-searching first. If your brand has a reputation for championing cases, consumers probably expect you to get in front of the conversation. It would seem strange to consumers if Unilever’s Ben & Jerry was not part of the Black Lives Matter conversation. Same goes for Nike and its endorser Colin Kaepernick.

Many companies focus advertising less on ideals and more on tangibilities such as product-attributes, value, and customer service. It makes sense to maintain that conversation to avoid virtue-signaling or pandering. 

If a company wants to enter the social sphere, be an authentic participant first. Walk your values before talking to consumers about them. Look at your community of employees and customers and support their ideals, be it launching scholarship or internship programs for minorities, hiring more employees from diverse backgrounds, or contributing financially to nonprofits that are helping. 


What is true to the business’s bottom line?

The financial impact of making business changes to support social issues is another vital area to consider. Some businesses and their employees' livelihoods rely on a steady presence on social media, so participating in boycotts like Stop Hate for Profit has a measurable impact. They need to evaluate their overall marketing strategy and contingency plan when considering cutting off ads or making drastic changes. 

The truth is, it’s a lot easier for a Unilever, a Verizon, or a Coca-Cola to cease advertising on social media because their brands are well-baked into society. They can go quiet on social advertising and still maintain mindshare. Small, e-commerce, or local businesses often rely on social campaigns to drive traffic and engage with their consumers. 


Whatever your decision, how will marketers measure, plan, and pivot?

Marketers need to establish short- and long-term KPIs to track the effects of their consumers’ responses to actions. For example, if a brand is considering pausing ad spend on Facebook, they should create an alternate media plan that shifts spend to other impactful areas and outlines the pros and cons.

Whatever your brand's stance, consider if you can support your decision for a prolonged period of time, as social justice promises to be a significant issue through the November election and beyond. It is important to continually monitor the situation through social listening and employee dialogue. If you are not involved in the social movement now, changing opinions may propel you there later. 


Laura Russell is the director of strategy at Adlucent

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Marketing Matters, Thu, 03 Sep 2020 10:49:27 GMT