Everyone wants to be a disruptive brand, but very few actually take the steps to back it up.
Many are interested in their image only. They might have posted a black square in June to show that they support a cause and then haven’t spoken about it since. A “challenger” brand, does the work to show they actually care about the causes they are posting about. In today’s no-BS society, the difference is more important than ever.
According to a 2019 report from Sprout Social, 70% of consumers said it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues. I can only venture to guess that that statistic would increase greatly in 2020, with the impact of COVID-19, the rise of unemployment, the election, the social justice causes such as Black Lives Matter, and society in general moving forward. Across generations, most agree brands need to take a stand. According to the same study, about 75-80% of Gen Z and Millennials say it is important for brands to take a stand, while 68% of Baby Boomers and 58% of Gen X feel this way.
There are many brands that do this well and have been working at it for quite some time. An example that comes to mind is AirBnB launching their #WeAccept campaign back in 2017. The goal was to provide short-term housing for 100,000 people in need, such as survivors of natural disaster, refugees, etc. This is a prime example of a brand doing something instead of just talking about it. Acting on the causes you post about shows that you genuinely care. While posting and making monetary donations are nice, taking action shows consumers that next level of commitment from your brand.
Okay, so your brand can’t provide housing or a large in-person activation, so what can you do to still become a challenger brand?
1. Start small and use new product launches to test new, bolder, messaging. Got a new product hitting shelves soon? Use that time as an opportunity to experiment with messaging that speaks to subjects deeper than your products. Introducing topics on your social channels such as animal cruelty, mental health, etc. will show consumers that your brand has values that run deeper than sales. For example, if your beverage line is offering a new boxed beverage and ditching plastic, use this as a jumping off point to talk about sustainability.
2. Incorporate authentic messaging to show that you care about more than just selling product. Take Billie, for example. The razor company created to empower women, and do away with the “pink tax”. While they make their money by selling razors, they frequently post pictures of women with long armpit and other body hair to their social media channels. Their message is about normalizing body hair, and even though they sell razors, their authenticity shines through and consumers take notice. This change does not have to happen overnight. Gradually seeding in messaging is a great place to start. It’s worth noting that making sure this message resonates with your audience is also important. Try using a social listening tool to learn what kinds of causes your community is talking about or do some market research to understand where your brand can naturally fit into those conversations.
3. Participate in a meaningful partnership. Part of authenticity comes with trust and knowledge about the topic. So your brand isn’t an expert on environmental impact, that’s okay! Consider partnering with a non-profit who is. Or maybe even an influencer who has a history of educating on the topic. This allows you to lift up the voices of the experts, while also building credibility with your audience. Showing you care by partnering, donating, and supporting a cause are all great ways to demonstrate to your customers that you do in fact, put your money where your mouth is.
4. Be consistent and be loud. To avoid the backlash of only posting out of peer pressure (i.e.: the infamous black square day), make sure your brand is consistently posting, speaking about, and taking action on the causes you promote. That way, when for instance, a social justice issue does come to the forefront of social media, your brand’s response won’t seem like a knee jerk reaction, because you have been vocal. Consumers truly appreciate a no-BS approach when it comes to issues they care about. And they’ll remember who spoke up and stood up next time they’re considering purchasing your product.
Now is the time to speak up and stand up. To become a challenger brand. To do more than just disrupt and make noise in a social feed. Start small if you have to, because taking small steps is still better than taking no steps at all.
Roemer is a copywriter with a passion for social and environmental issues. When she isn’t writing, you can find her watching Bravo TV, reading way too many books (she’s up to 104 this year!), hanging out with her cats, or gently pestering her friends and family about voting.