Taking A Stance at MRS Live

Last week, Kristin and Jake spoke at the Market Research Society’s Impact Conference 2021, where the theme was “Transformation and Recovery”. Using the context of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, our session explored whether brands should engage in political conversations and discussed the frameworks around taking a stance on these issues.

#DoesMyTitleMatter? We need to talk about brands getting political

We’re told not to talk about sensitive topics like politics, sex, or religion. However, our research, in collaboration with Alligator Digital, showed that consumers are undecided on whether brands should take a stance on social issues, with most feeling almost 50/50 about it. This means that, if done right, there’s potential for a brand to gain exponentially. Our findings also revealed that 15% of consumers had already boycotted a brand based on its response to the Black Lives Matter movement - this figure being around 1 in 4 for consumers under the age of 35 years.

In brief - it is extremely important for brands to take a stance.  But it needs to be relevant.

Jumping on bandwagons without the necessary thought and planning can do more harm than good, both to a brand and the social movement in question. The question isn’t whether to take a stance, but how to take a stance. It’s important to understand when to be political, when to steer clear, and how to achieve market success through a sensitive and adaptive strategy. 

Actions speak louder than words.  Consumers will pick up on attempts at ‘performative provocation’ (thanks for the phrase, Oscar!), so it also matters to be authentic in your approach.  As Jake explained during the session, “taking a stance is not just putting out a social media post and shrugging your shoulders. It’s about reinventing your brand and, from the bottom up, it shows what you stand for. Do. Don’t just say.”  The research backs this up, showing that people are largely sceptical when they see a brand taking a social or political stance, with a 55% majority tending to believe they are being opportunistic. However, when brands really do prove their sincerity, the consumers’ position changes significantly.

“You need to understand, for your particular brand, who you are talking to so you can tailor the wins and mitigate the brand attrition" - Kristin Hickey

Our research suggested that different personas, building up to different consumer groups, will react differently to brands getting involved in the social and political arena.  It’s this understanding that is key to developing that crucial sensitive and adaptive strategy which, in turn, drives purchase intent. For one key segment, a brand actively committing to change - rather than solely relaying the message - saw a 14% increase in intent to purchase and promoted the feeling that the brand was more inclusive (+14%), progressive (+12%) and inspiring positive change (+12%).  “ Connect with the consumer in a genuine way that is more than just pure marketing strategy and that really runs through the veins of the brand,” summarised Kristin. 

Brands have the agency to influence important cultural change and the choice to engage (or not) with a social issue has a huge impact on the lives of real people. A more socially-conscious consumer is emerging, and they are expecting brands to do the right thing.  It’s likely that your brand has a defined demographic of target consumers (if not, it should!) and your stance must be cohesive with your company values in order to ring true for your consumer and avoid any accusations of performative provocation.

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