If you want your business or brand to stand out, stand for something – so long as it is congruent with your business and your brand values.
Standing for something makes for very powerful public relations, content and other marketing activities – it achieves great cut-through, high audience engagement and can even lead to market dominance. But it is important that it aligns with your business and your customers because ultimately, this is a positioning strategy that differentiates you from the competition by showing you care.
To stand for something is to support, encourage, promote or endorse a value, a cause or an issue important to your target market. Critically, it is a way to engage your audience through something that is important and relevant to them – in so doing you demonstrate empathy, establish rapport and inspire loyalty because people only care when they know how much you care about them.
One of the greatest branding minds of our age, Marty Neumeier, will tell you that Hooters enjoyed the success that it did because the company’s market is young men. Its politically incorrect stance appealed to its customer base. It didn’t matter that women’s rights activists and others hated them – so long as their customers loved them.
Another example is Harley Davidson. The brand stands for freedom in an age where it’s audience is experiencing ‘diminishing personal freedom’.
Your stand – whether a thought leader, professional speaker, small business or major brand – does not have to be controversial, it just needs to show that it cares about its audience and holds important what is important to them.
NOTE: While the examples below are primarily consumer focussed, ‘standing for something’ is also a powerful tool in the B2B market.
The Bud Light mistake
The most important aspect of standing for something is to be sure that is in alignment with the worldview, values and issues important to your target market. The American beer brand decided to expand its market segment by appealing to a different audience, and it cost the company dearly. It doesn’t matter which side of the debate you are on, there is no denying transgender rights are controversial.
Most people will know about the massive loss in sales Bud Light took when the company sent transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney a handful of beers. At least one of those cans featured an image of Mulvaney. What followed was a boycott that cost Anheuser-Busch its number one spot in the market.
The brand took the position it did because it wants to expand its market to a younger audience, or, as a marketing vice-president crudely put it, ‘to capture a more sophisticated audience’. What does that say about how the company feels about its current customer base (I don’t know if the Anheuser-Busch endorsed such a decision, it appears not)?
Basically, I would suggest that Bud Light essentially implied its existing customers were ‘bogans’, and it cost them.
The Always success story
Procter & Gamble’s menstrual hygiene brand Always was in decline. It’s target market, particularly girls aged 12 – 18, were moving away from the brand. Unlike Bud Light, Always did not try to move away from its current customer base but decided instead to show they care for their existing customer demographic.
On the basis that girls suffer a massive loss of confidence in their tweens and early teens, the brand wanted to help inspire girls of this age and boost their confidence by showing them what they are really capable of. They did this by challenging social stereotypes,
Always launched the ‘Throw like a Girl’ campaign which challenged stereotypical and somewhat demeaning phrases such as ‘through like a girl,’ and ‘run like a girl.’ The phrase is usually accompanied by a demeaning parody of exaggerated, awkward so-called girlish throwing style.
In a series of documentary like clips, of girls and boys, the marketing team challenged the phrase and the parody, showing that there is nothing awkward or girlish in how young women do athletics – that it looks nothing like the parody associated with the expression.
By tackling an social issue that connected at emotional level with it’s target market, Always quickly seized the number one spot in its market category.
Standing for something can be controversial, so long as it is in alignment with the problems and issues faced by your customers, or their values or world view. Hooters restaurants are an example of this.
How to stand for something
Standing for something does not need to be controversial (although it can be) but should align with your customer’s worldview and values.
Always, Harley Davidson and Hooters are good examples of this kind of positioning.
A local example is that of a credit union that, noticing most of their audience lack financial literacy, launched a campaign aimed at improving the financial literacy of the children in those families with the intention of achieving a generational shift and getting lower-socio economic families out of debt.
To begin with, ask yourself:
- What issues or problems might your audience be dealing with. In the case of Always, it was loss of confidence in young girls.
- Are there any current trends that are shaping your industry or impacting your customers in some way? For example, an obvious one is the rise of AI.
A useful tool for doing this is the economics PESTLE model, which stands for political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental.
Are there any political things happening that affect your market? For example, new legislation, existing legislation, political party positions you agree with or disagree with.
What economic issues are your customers confronting? For example, rising cost of living, rising interest rates, unemployment, the gig economy and debt.
A goldmine for getting cut through, taking a stand on social issues will certainly get you notice, but make sure it is for the right reasons. For example, political correctness, busyness, working from home and mental health.
Unquestionably, technology is an integral part of our daily lives, both personally, socially and in business. That means it has lots of opportunities to take a position. For example, artificial intelligence and automation, cybersecurity, data privacy. Threats include job displacement, vulnerability, the digital divide between generations, ethical dilemmas, and bias in AI…
Issues of law and legislation profoundly impact the lives of everybody. From school board decisions to local and national legislators, their decisions impact your customers. If you are a probate lawyer, what problems, opportunities and fishhooks should your target market know about? Others may be the rise in crime, youth offending, and the legalisation of pseudoephedrine as proposed by the ACT party.
Concerns about the environment have a high profile, and is a relatively crowded space – from greenwashing, carbon credits, plastic and climate change, it is a powerful topic because it is so current and occupies high awareness among the general populace. Examples of causes to advance may be e-waste, the failure of recycling, urban sprawl, ozone layer depletion (useful if you are in skin care) and litter.
Make sure that for whatever you choose to make a stand, it is congruent with your business and aligns with the values or worldview of your target market.