Je suis Charlie! Freedom of speech and taking a stand on social!

Why we will start to see more brands engaging with their consumers on more than simply what they provide, but on issues or subjects which matter to them most.

We’ve all heard the arguments and agreed that branded content is of imperative value to brands in engaging with their audiences (yep before you say it, branded content just like this post). In recent years we have seen the rise in branded content and are now swimming in a sea of it; our lives richer and wiser for it. However, how much branded content that you read actually takes a stand on something. How many of these branded content articles, infographics, blog posts, Facebook campaigns or Pinterest boards actually state an opinion? And before you assume this is criticism – I assure you it’s not – I’m 100% behind brands producing real valuable content on and off line, BUT content as with anything, if we are surrounded by it and its continually occupying neutral ground risks a slow drift into mediocrity.

In Brandschool® we have an exercise called The Visual Personality. We use it to determine a brand’s positioning today and in the future, and benchmark how far in a particular direction the brand needs to go on certain characteristics. ‘Is the brand more youthful or mature? Both today and tomorrow?’ as an example. What we find most common is that when a business is assessing its brand today – they invariably head towards the middle ground of being neither one trait or another, highlighting why their existing brand isn’t resonating with their audiences.

We are seeing a growing trend for consumers to engage with brands which share our own point of view, or try to influence and get involved with issues or causes which we too believe in. (See article from the Guardian on becoming a Pro-Social brand)

Simon Sinek – author best known for popularising the concept of ‘the golden circle’ and to ‘Start With Why’ has been saying for years that we as people “don’t buy what you do, but why you do it” and his argument echoes this current thinking today.

It’s brave, it’s bold, it’s certainly risky, and right now it’s perhaps even slightly maverick. Take heed before jumping off at the deep end – it needs careful consideration before declaring your viewpoint to the world on all things social. As critics of the trend foresee that taking a stand on one side with almost certainly antagonise customers on the other and that customers may sense an air of opportunism if it’s linked to marketing messages.

Regardless there is certainly some value and merit in this discussion and we will be watching with fascination this year to see which brands come out from under the ‘mass opinion, best not to rock the boat, landscape’ and start to humanise themselves to their customers by presenting real, authentic viewpoints in their brand proposition.

Nikki Phillipson
Account Director, 10 Associates