The Right way to get Political With Your Branding2 min read.
Incorporating a political stance on a well-know issue or acknowledging social responsibility can be risky for any business so, when is the right time to nail your colours to the mast and how should it affect your Employer Brand?...
There are more job openings than new hires in today's economy, meaning potential employees can be choosier about where they work. Layoffs at massive tech companies like Twitter, Meta, and Amazon mean that even more top talent is up for grabs for early-stage start-up founders.
I have learned not underestimate the importance of brand sentiment, especially during recruitment. Brand sentiment is a significant factor in whether a candidate chooses to work for you. Your website's career section (along with career website profiles and job postings) also plays an essential role in your overall public perception. But is political branding a factor in the equation?
Brands like Airbnb and Patagonia are well-known for taking political stances for the good of the world. Meanwhile, Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Lauren Hobart took a public stance when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, offering up to $4,000 in travel reimbursement to any employee, spouse, or dependent who needs to travel out of state for an abortion.
Roe v. Wade sparked a new era of a brand's political stance becoming part of its personality. Only 30% of companies remained silent on the issue, according to a survey from The Conference Board. Many businesses traditionally remain apolitical for fear of polarizing an audience and losing customers. Still, we live in a world where even big organizations must pick a side and be clear on what they believe if they hope to attract and retain top talent.
Every election cycle, people flock to social media to express political ideals, endorsements, and debates on everything from candidates to party-specific issues. Platforms like Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter empower regular people to have a voice in important societal conversations. Yet these regular people with regular jobs end up blurring the lines of employee brand storytelling, whether they know it or not, with their posts on social media.
Many of the gripes that cause people to quit their jobs — low pay, no advancement opportunities, and disrespect, according to Pew Research Center — are the same reasons we protest our governments. Quitting your job is as much a political act as picking up a new one, and employee political beliefs aren't typically protected against discrimination. Employees with strong political opinions often perform better when working for companies with similar views. Thus, in a politically charged society, the importance of political branding is more relevant now than ever before.
Should you get political?
While taking a stand is sometimes necessary, you can't stand for everything. When taking a stand, the most important thing to consider is whether the topic is relevant to your brand story. Before diving in, think about how it fits into the overall storytelling arc you're already on. For example, Patagonia's brand message focuses heavily on conservation, so it makes sense that its political stance allows for interaction with those conversations.
Tastefully asserting a brand's political stance is an opportunity to demonstrate a proof point and further reinforce your brand by galvanizing words into action. Because they are heavily regulated, some industries have little choice but to get involved in a political organization. Examples of this include banking, oil, and cannabis. These industries tend to excel at infusing political branding into employee brand storytelling and corporate culture.
However, engaging in political debates isn't easy. When under interrogation, you must have plausible, deliberate, intelligent, and well-thought-out responses for your positioning. Furthermore, your brand's political stance must be 100% in alignment with your values, the vision of your organization, and the beliefs you're cultivating. After all, some brands that have taken a political stance face harsh criticism, such as the decade-long war between Chick-fil-A and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups.
Conversely, it is easy to respect Patagonia's political branding because it is well-crafted, and the company has the conviction to see it through. When it comes to employee brand storytelling, you win people's respect when you have absolute clarity and consistency in the messaging.
With great risk comes great reward, but you shouldn't go in unprepared. Here's how to know when to stay silent, when to engage, and how taking a political stance affects your overall brand perception.
1. We're going to engage.
Having a point of view isn't enough to justify putting your brand on the line by vocalizing it. A brand's political stance can affect leadership, the company, and employees, among other stakeholders. Thus, taking a political stand should be thoroughly thought-out, and your organization should be ready to back up any claims, storytelling, or messages to back it up.
Additionally, your brand's political standing needs to be scalable and sustainable. Political branding should not be about being seen to do the right thing; that would be disingenuous. Instead, your brand's political stance needs to have a tangible link with business goals, objectives, and ambitions while prioritizing the human aspects of purpose, impact, and belonging among diverse teams.
Altogether, your brand's political stance requires an organized, strategic communications framework. This will be the amount of conviction, effort, and other resources you're willing to put behind the stance. The more resources you allocate, the more successful the positioning will be. Fortunately, allocating more resources is easier when political branding fits into brand sentiment to begin with.
2. We're not going to engage.
Your brand story is its North Star, which will determine what fights to take on and which arguments contribute best to your brand's political stance. You can have a viewpoint on everything happening on the news, but if it's not of significant consequence to your talent or consumer audiences, it's best to let it pass without comment.
If you're on the fence about making a political statement, consider whether you can explain your decision with absolute integrity. It doesn't matter how softly or loudly you engage if it doesn't match your brand voice and values. Furthermore, suppose you can't fully describe why a political stance will help your business or further promote your brand's image. In that case, there's an increased risk of putting the company's ethics and integrity under scrutiny if you choose to engage.
It is important to be considerate, empathetic, and compassionate with employees. You don't want to find your business operating in a harsh, high-performance environment that remains afloat due to meritocracy. Instead, focusing on embedding equity and equality into every process, procedure, opportunity, and resource (even if you're not engaging externally as a company) is what will lead to true inclusiveness.
It's a new age of capitalism, where organizations often benefit from having a political view and standing behind it. For political branding to be effective, it can't just be lip service, opportunism, or news hijacking. Your brand's political stance needs to be authentic and actionable to generate results and ultimately keep your business afloat well into the future.