Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Kahmile Reid | Brand-standing: A risk strategy

Published:Wednesday | November 21, 2018 | 12:00 AMKahmile Reid/Guest Columnist

You'd recall the old cliche, "In life, if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything." It is true for people, but is it also true for brands? Should companies engage in the risk strategy of 'brand-standing'? In this context, brand standing means taking a stand on social issues.

The long answer is yes - for three reasons. It is important for companies to engage in brand-standing to appear authentic, to be a part of the conversation instead of an annoying interruption to it, and to appear to be taking a risk on behalf of customers.

The value of branding is found in its ability to put the consumer's mind at ease. That's the reason companies such as Campbell's, Heinz and Quaker Oats established brand identities in order to "to reassure a public anxious about the concept of factory-produced goods" (Haig, 2003). This resulted in consumers no longer trusting in the community shopkeeper, with that trust now reposed in Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima.

Consumers base their decision to purchase on their perception of the brand or their acceptance of the story they were told. So much so that brands have transcended products, at times becoming more valuable than physical assets. Because branding has morphed into perception creation through storytelling, it has become that much more delicate, making it more susceptible to crises for the slightest indiscretion. This is a risk when companies engage in brand-standing.

In the past, brands were advised to tread the path of least resistance, and in doing so, stay away from hot-button topics and politically charged rhetoric. But companies are compelled to adapt their approach to messaging as one-way communication on traditional platforms is no longer sufficient. Since large institutions and companies suffer from trust deficits locally and internationally, brand-standing can assist them in regaining lost trust.

 

NIKE & COLIN KAEPERNICK

 

Companies face a dilemma as even more potential customers or clients use advertisements as bathroom breaks. This reality means such companies can no longer depend on the traditional advertising models to draw eyeballs to their products or services. The result is that companies have to innovate to make themselves and the things they are selling appear authentic.

Nike's collaboration with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in its campaign to mark the 30th anniversary of its 'Just Do it Campaign' is an excellent example of brand-standing. The tag line for that campaign said it all, 'Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything'.

Choosing Kaepernick, a man who has led a controversial and highly charged movement highlighting racial injustice against African Americans, was a highly risky strategy. But it was a risk they took to be a part of an important conversation about social justice. This achieved two things. Nike became a part of the conversation, not an annoying interruption to it, and they appeared to be taking a risk to stand by their customers in their beliefs about social injustice.

 

AIRBNB'S 'WE ACCEPT' CAMPAIGN

 

We also saw Airbnb take a stand with their 'we accept' campaign that followed the travel ban imposed on persons from Muslim countries by the Trump administration. The company boldly stated their belief, stating, "We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, who you love, who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept." Airbnb's business model depends on accepting people from all walks of life into their homes. In taking that stand, they appeared authentic, even if it risked alienating those customers who had a different perspective on things.

Here at home, the National Identification System (NIDS) is unpopular among some people. But members of the private sector have taken a stand in support of it. Earlier this month, Nadine Mathews-Blair, NCB's chief digital officer, registered the bank's full support for the NIDS at a Digital Symposium. She pointed out that NIDS was a critical enabler for the digital transformation of the country.

With this simple endorsement, NCB has inserted itself into the national conversation instead of being an interruption to it, while positioning themselves as the 'tech-company that offers financial services'. The stance they have taken perhaps puts them at risk of losing customers who share a different view.

Brand-standing is a risk strategy which has not worked for all brands. Pepsi beat a hasty retreat when its Kendall Jenner campaign was flagged 'for co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement to sell soda'.

Personally, I believe in brand-standing. I encourage companies to put social issues at the heart of their marketing campaigns, provided it makes sense and profit for them to do so.

I'm also encouraging corporate influencers, wherever they exist, to stand for something. Customers will appreciate it.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com of www.kahmilereid.com.