Trends for 2019: Brands realise the risk of sitting on the fence

With consumer trust in brands falling, companies need to be willing to have a voice on certain topics, failure to do so could actually be more damaging than keeping quiet in 2019.

Taking a stand on a polarising issue can be risky for businesses – you only need to look at the divisive reaction to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad for evidence of that – but with consumers’ trust in brands dropping, many are realising it could actually be riskier in the long-term to sit on the fence. Just 43% of the UK population trust businesses, according to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, down from 45% last year.

More than having a ‘purpose’, this is about brands standing up and adopting a bold stance when they don’t agree with something or want to give voice to a cause. This year, like Nike, Nationwide, McCain and Maltesers joined forces to take a stand – this time against the abusive behaviour of online trolls through their #TogetherAgainstHate ad takeover on Channel 4.

Talking to Marketing Week at the time, Nationwide CMO Sara Bennison (who was named Visionary Marketer of the Year at the Marketing Week Masters) said “it’s time we stand up to hate” and “highlight a growing societal problem” to show it is unacceptable to post hate speech and threats online.

While all three brands were aware standing up to the haters in this way could bring about more hate and turn people off their brands, Bennison was clear she would prefer to lose their business than support such views as that’s “not what we stand for”.

She also said it was crucial for her to know Nationwide would not back down from this issue, showing it’s not only important from a consumer perspective for brands to stand up for what’s right, but also from an employer branding point of view.

More than half (57%) of UK consumers now consider themselves belief-driven buyers – a 54% rise on 2017, according to Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study, showing a significant change in consumers’ attitudes on brands’ responsibilities.

These shoppers will choose, switch, avoid and even boycott brands based on whether or not they take a stand and, depending on the issue and the brand, will change their buying behaviour as a result.

Meanwhile, data from YouGov shows 52% of British people think brands should be able to express their opinion on certain topics. While this still leaves nearly half the population who are less adamant, the people that do want brands to get involved in societal issues say it’s because they want to know they can trust the brands they interact with. Meanwhile, 54% want to understand who they are giving their money to and 41% don’t want to support businesses which have values they disagree with.

While taking a stand does run the risk of creating division and it won’t necessarily work for all brands, there are certain issues that brands should not shy away from – especially if, like in the case of Nationwide, McCain and Maltesers, they are already involved. Given consumers’ increasing lack of trust in brands, and their desire to know the businesses they spend their money with are on the same page as them, staying quiet in fear of a backlash could actually be more damaging than taking a stand next year.

To read more of Marketing Week’s trends for 2019, sponsored by Salesforce, head here.

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