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To Speak or Not to Speak? That Is the Question…

To Speak or Not to Speak? That Is the Question…

23 April 2020
Author: Jasmine Waters

As time continues to pass us by, we find our collective time often preoccupied by an international disaster or event of extreme concern. Living through the coronavirus outbreak has once again brought the issue of if companies should be seen to react to ‘social ongoings’ outside of their branded sphere. The previous prevailing wisdom was that endorsing any kind of cause would be sure to guarantee bad business. But has public stance change, and if it has – is new action worth following through with?

Have companies always held a stance?

In short, there is a definite shift in how consumers both see and interact with brands who take some kind of acknowledgement of what’s going on around them. This arguably started in the 1980s with the corporate social responsibility movement, with the advocacy mainly rooted within the products and processes themselves, rather than any kind of politics. Society became more vocally opinionated and companies gradually followed suit with their activism. With 24-hour news channels and the daily use of social media, it’s now a risk for any brand to remain a shade of neutral.

What could having a clear stance achieve? 

Opinions themselves on which policy to adopt is itself rather divided. Some argue that having a voice can solidify the important bonds with stakeholders, while others fear that can alienate employees and customers. So does having advocacy have the power to change the mind of a consumer – and guarantee loyalty or repeat business? From a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, ethical activity was often assumed to be part and parcel of a normal business strategy, with consumers wanting any belief to be both genuinely held and incorporated in order to build loyalty. The study did reveal which consumer demographics were more susceptible to negative feelings towards a non-neutral stance, including consumers over 40 and women. For women in particular, this could possibly be explained by remembering that they themselves are a part of a changing progressive value system they are already an integral part of. 

This leads us back to the idea of knowing how to strike the perfect balance – something we have touched on in our previous posts. The last few years have shown that there is a decreasing sense of trust in fundamental institutions, so if advocacy is adopted, it must be seen to be a natural extension of the existing business model. Any taboo of maintaining opinion with commercialism now doesn’t exist, although whether this is a real driving factor for consumer behaviour remains to be seen. That being said – a new business environment is forming. The impact of vocal ethical activity may not be appreciated by all just yet, but the impact won’t be going away.

Image source: hbr.org

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