It seems that more and more companies are weighing in on the social values wars that are embroiling the political landscape.
Last year, hundreds of companies (including Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, etc.) lent their support to the same-sex marriage law, through public statements, advertising and even legal actions. On the other end of the spectrum, some companies (like Chick-Fil-A) have made public statements against equality and LGBT people.
Companies have figured out that it's not just the values of the company's leadership that is driving this, but also the values of their consumers. So these companies are getting involved because it makes good business sense.
A study done this year by Forrester shows that consumers are not only more aware of social and environmental issues, but they are demanding transparency from the companies and brands they buy from.
In the polarized world we live in, and with the power of social media, consumers are more vocal and powerful than ever before.
Before a company weighs in, though, it's important to understand how your core consumer will react to a certain social stand, and which social or environmental issues are important to your consumers. This can vary widely, depending on if your company is Whole Foods or Cracker Barrel, for example.
To avoid a potential PR crisis, it's important to do this research and to stake out a position before an otherwise safe business decision turns into a huge problem. For example, when Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, many consumers were aghast at Russia's poor human rights policies, especially as it relates to the LGBT community. They demanded that the Olympic sponsors pull out or at least make a statement supporting their values. Those sponsors that did not suffered a beating in the media and a major boycott.
But more proactively, how should companies attract the values-based consumer? Each company's situation will be a little different and will require a customized (and committed) marketing campaign that may not even involve a marketing campaign. For example, making a public statement, starting a corporate boycott or taking a legal action in favor of or against a social or political issue may resonate with values-based consumers without having to spend a dime on marketing.
Of course, these actions should also be supported by media relations, social media, advertising, partnerships and other ways to get the word out about the company's values and actions.