The opinionated consumer is on the rise. Brad Tuttle cites numerous examples of boycotting, protesting, petitioning and venting in this recent article in Time. Encouraged by the galvinising effects of social media and mass action against brands that they perceive to have done wrong, people everywhere it seems are pointing the finger and calling upon others to do the same.
Brands are now so much of our daily experience that we quite literally take their actions and attitudes personally says Martin Zwilling in a recent article in Forbes. And because of this we look for, and judge brands by their “worthy intentions”. Relationships, he says, are now the cornerstone of value and that potentially makes brands vulnerable to the opinions and agendas of others in a world where “your customers now have near-instanteous power to hold companies and brands accountable for their words and actions”.
This situation puts brands in an apparent dilemma. They can attempt to appeal to everyone and risk being likeable but bland. Or they can go out on a limb, take a position and incur the wrath and potential actions of those who disagree with them. Actually, I don’t think that’s a dilemma at all. To me, most brands, except those deliberately built around globally-scaled mass appeal, need to be opinionated, even argumentative, with the world around them, and the rise and rise of the opinionated consumer should be a catalyst for that rather than a deterrent.
In many cases, the issue isn’t actually whether people agree with you as a brand. It’s very hard work indeed to please all of the people all of the time. The question is what they are arguing with you about.
If they are taking issue with an opinion you hold, that’s their democratic right and they have never had more tools at their disposal with which to exercise their agreement or disagreement. But polarised consumers are also a huge source of loyalty. Powerful brands across almost every sector use opinions, and difference of opinions, to galvinise buyers into communities.
However if they are taking issue with an action you have taken, that is something to take notice of. Disapproval requires a very different response than disagreement – precisely because it has a moral perspective to it. If consumers or NGOs are taking issue with an action you have taken or not taken, that is at least worthy of some explanation of what you are doing and why by way of response. You may still decide to go ahead even in the face of protest or outright criticism … but you should have a clear view on why you are doing so, and you should be communicating that in a very focused way to your customers.
And if your actions don’t pass muster – admit it, apologise and take appropriate steps, or face the consequences of not being seen to behave in a worthy way. That’s not about backing down or spin or damage control. It’s simply about integrity. If how you act doesn’t square with what you say and what you’ve told the world you believe, you’re not being true to yourselves. Consumers can live with a brand they don’t like, even if they’re happy to give it a hard time. But a brand that can’t be trusted to keep its word quickly loses support across the board.
Consumers don’t just buy what you sell, they buy what you stand for. So here are my six suggestions for how to effectively build difference by opinion:
- State your position, why you hold it, and who it will benefit in an unequivocal manifesto.
- Be constructive – focus on the good you believe needs doing. Don’t hate, don’t discriminate, don’t stigmatise.
- Be colourful – how you express your view is critical. Own your language.
- Be consistent and be transparent – state when you’ve got it right, and when and why you’ve fallen short.
- Challenge others to equal or better an industry benchmark/norm that you believe needs changing, regardless of whether you’re a leader, a starter or a challenger. (Interesting article here from the excellent thinkers at eatbigfish on who they thought would shake the tree well in 2013.)
- Take up the debate. So many brands are not prepared to argue with those who disagree with them. Step up, I say. Not to change the opinions of those who disagree with you (that won’t happen) but rather to remind those who do agree why they should continue to have faith in you. But play the issue not the person … And apply that same principle to those who comment.
Photo of “Disagreement” taken by Nayaab Shaikh, sourced from Flickr