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Brands = The New Weapons for Social Change

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Brands = The New Weapons for Social Change
Brands = The New Weapons for Social Change

Marketers today are finding themselves more frequently in situations they never would have predicted when it comes to their participation in the global community. As various political and social action groups demand changes in laws, or respond to what they see as injustices in their communities, these groups are turning to a weapon that they have come to see as more powerful than any other—money.

Except for employing industry lobbyists and making quiet donations to specific candidates, most brands were only rarely connected to the politics of our world. But now, not only are some brands taking strong public stands on topics such as gay rights, racism, and the environment, they're sometimes being  dragged into these controversies by consumers.  Consumers have learned that multi-billion dollar corporations often wield more power than government entities or activist groups alone.

How did this happen? How did marketers get thrown into the ring, battling social issues instead of just selling soft drinks or fast food?

Power of the now

The biggest source of fuel driving this change is the speed at which information and opinions travel today. Digital media has transformed one person with a smartphone into a potential match that can begin a forest fire of public opinion in a matter of hours. Online petitions spring up and seem to have tens or even hundreds of thousands of signatures overnight. Likewise, brands can find their inboxes bursting with emails from consumers demanding action—all from a simple public request from a person with a cause and a point of view that can be sold to millions of people instantly. In the not-so-distant past, letter-writing campaigns tried to achieve similar goals. But today, social media and blogs provide the instant access and easy participation that multiplies in minutes to impact brands—which often struggle to respond as quickly.

Marketers opened the door

Similarly, digital information sharing has provided more transparency into the inner workings of corporations than ever before, with the result that more and more companies are declaring their positions on certain social and political issues in an attempt to show loyal consumers that they share their values.

And consumers are taking notice. Some are starting to expect brands to do more than market products. Every time a brand takes a stand on a hot issue, it makes some consumers wonder how competitive brands feel about that same issue. Social media provides an easy way to demand brands take a position if they have expressed none. It's getting harder for brands to sit on the sidelines, out of the daily stream of issues on people's minds. Increasingly, being “neutral” on hot social issues is an impossible place to be for big (or even some smaller) brands. It's natural that smart consumers see the potential to leverage brand dollars and influence behind a hot button issue when they see how successfully some brands do so for themselves.

It's all input, it's all dialogue

Another factor in the trend is a changing consumer mindset when it comes to the blurred lines between brand marketing, entertainment, and world news. Many people see it all as “input” that comes to them through the same channels. Today's information seeker is flipping quickly back and forth between news tweets, online social engagement, and digital marketing messages.

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