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  • Writer's pictureHilary Young

Should Your Brand Speak Publicly About Tough Topics?

I think now is a good time to discuss how to determine what's appropriate to discuss as a brand, especially when it comes to politics, culture, and war.

Like any complicated topic, the answer to what's appropriate to say as a brand is equally nuanced and challenging to navigate. As we've seen in the past, it's very easy to say the wrong thing, running the risk of saying too much or not enough. There are a lot of loud voices on the internet and your brand doesn't always have to be one of them.

Let me reiterate that: you don't have to weigh in on everything as a brand.

It's completely up to you and your leadership team to determine if (and what) to say something about very hot button topics. To determine whether or not you should consider publicly addressing challenging topics as a brand, start by answering these questions:

Is the tough topic on brand for you?

If the challenging topic that might be currently trending is part of your mission statement and baked into a lot of the work that you do as a brand on a daily basis, then yes, you absolutely should weigh in on a tough topic.

If, however, it's not something you are knowledgeable about as a brand or don't typically talk about in your regular marketing messaging, then this is what it means to not be "on brand" for you. If that's the case, you should take careful consideration before diving in, otherwise you run the risk of needing to follow up your message with a crisis communications plan.

Does your entire audience segment care about it?

If you are confident that your target audience is overwhelmingly in agreement with your position on a topic, then go ahead and talk about it. In fact, they're probably waiting for you to weigh in so they can engage with you and feel like a valued part of the community.

If you're not sure that the majority of your target audience would take the same stance on a subject, you run the risk of losing large chunks of your audience by saying something. As with all issues that people are very passionate about, there is typically no coming back from saying the wrong thing and you could lose customers for their lifetime. After all, it's hard to win people over when you've deeply offended them. And with hot topics that feel deeply personal, they might eventually forgive you as a brand, but they won't forget (read: they will take their business elsewhere).

Is the topic one of your content pillars?

In addition to knowing what's on brand for you to talk about, you also need content pillars to manage your marketing efforts and keep you consistent across platforms. Content pillars exist as a North Star for what you should be talking about as a brand, and they are a great way to ensure that your brand will become known as a subject matter expert (SME) or go-to resource on certain topics. Veering away from your content pillars creates inconsistency when it comes to your marketing messaging, and can throw off your audience.

So, you shouldn't be surprised that it's best practice to steer clear of talking about topics that don't fall under one of your pillars. If the current hot topic that is being discussed on the internet isn't in your typical wheelhouse of what you talk about as a brand, don't feel pressure to say anything. If you feel like it would be damaging to the brand to stay silent, there's no harm in admitting that your brand is not an expert on this complicated topic and instead provide resources that amplify the voices who are more knowledgable. No matter what you say, the key is to always lead with humanity, empathy, and authenticity, which is surprisingly hard for brands to do sometimes!

How to Show Up As A Brand In Other Ways

There are plenty of ways to advocate for issues that you are passionate about, either as an individual or within the inner workings of your organization. This is especially important for bigger brands where employees are looking to leadership for guidance, comfort, and some humanity during tough times.

Building an infrastructure to support what your employees need from you as a brand is an essential but oft-misunderstood element of brand strategy. Why? Because it all starts with identifying brand values, which are just as useful for internal operations as they are for external communications. If you often tout brand values that espouse certain values but can't live up to those values in a crisis, your brand will suffer for it.


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