“If you don’t stand up, you don’t stand a chance.”
“I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.”
Standing up for what you believe in is a great message for pop songs. But is it good advice for your content marketing efforts?
In the past year, we’ve seen companies take heat for taking a stand on a variety of social and economic issues, from climate change to health care and marriage equality to racial discrimination. Some claimed victory for their efforts. Others weren’t so lucky and their brands suffered. By its very nature, an issue connotes emotion and controversy, and those two factors can make your marketing efforts go either way – toward resounding success or flaming failure.
What do you do when you – or your company’s decision-makers – feel passionately about an issue that’s already in the public domain, or about one that’s not yet but should be? Do you take a stand? Or do you play it safe?
Of course, only you (or the powers that be at your company) can make that call. But before you decide to speak out on an issue and incorporate opinion messaging into your content marketing, ask these questions:
Does the issue speak to my product/service’s target consumer? If yes, what is their collective opinion?
If your core demographic doesn’t care about the issue, why are you investing your content marketing resources in talking about it?
Tight marketing budgets leave little room for altruism. If, however, the issue is something your customers are already thinking about, there may be value for you in speaking out on it. Nearly 62 percent of people surveyed by marketing company WrightIMC agreed that when they make a purchase, they consider the social stance of the company they’re buying from, and 35 percent agreed strongly with that statement.
One caveat: Perhaps it’s an issue that isn’t on the radar for your demographic, but should be – which is where climate change was a couple of decades ago for many people and companies. In that case, consider the value of information for your customers. Can you provide them with good information that will expand their knowledge and raise their awareness?
Have I thoroughly researched the issue so that I can make informed, factual statements about it?
The American public embraces information, facts and statistics.
If you can contribute to their greater understanding of an issue they care about, your content marketing will better resonate with your audience. If, however, you haven’t thoroughly researched an issue, aren’t prepared to back up your stance with facts, or are acting solely from emotion, perhaps you should follow Mark Twain’s advice: “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
What are the possible benefits of speaking out, and do they outweigh the risks?
While there’s certainly room for moments of nobility in marketing (the Budweiser post-9/11 commercial comes to mind), the ultimate goal of all marketing is to enrich your business.
Taking a stand comes with the significant risk of offending people, some of whom may be your target customer. If you can’t reasonably expect that the benefits – improved brand awareness and corporate image, for example – will outweigh that major risk, it may be better to avoid controversy.
One caveat: Sometimes, controversy comes looking for you and you can’t completely avoid it. It’s probably best, however, not to invite it. If you need an example of the damage courting controversy can cause, consider the restaurant that called out an NFL player for allegedly leaving a poor tip. Fans of the player’s team burned up social media with their outcry against the dining establishment. And the whole uproar looked even sillier a few weeks later when other NFL players were linked to more pressing issues like domestic violence and child abuse.
Do my preferred content marketing channels support this kind of dialogue?
Some content marketing formats just don’t lend themselves to issues. MAT releases are rarely good vehicles for voicing a strong stand or opinion on issues, although they can be great for disseminating facts that speak to an issue you care about.
Social media is a natural fit for speaking out on an issue. Your blog, Twitter feed or LinkedIn posts can afford you the opportunity to voice your opinion or your corporate policy on any topic of interest to your customers.
Is this really any of my business?
We’ve saved it for last, but that really is the question that it should all come down to.
Even if you’ve already decided that the possible benefits could outweigh the risks, you still need to determine if it’s appropriate for you to speak out on a given topic. For example, citizens might lobby their community’s governing body to install a crosswalk at a busy intersection and significantly lower the speed limit on the road on either side of the intersection. Opponents may argue cost constraints or the traffic impact of a slower speed limit. Everyone can get behind the idea of making roads safer, but if your storefront is located on the other side of town from the site in question, is it appropriate for you to speak out on the issue?
Ultimately, if all you’re doing is adding to the noise, neither your brand nor your customers benefit.