Corporate values are on trial every day with calls for brands to take a stand on everything from racism to immigrant rights to the MeToo movement. Determining when to stay silent and when to act has become key to a brand's reputation, according to a report from FleishmanHillard which offers ideas on how, even when consumers disagree with your brand, you can still keep their loyalty. This article is copyright 2018 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, imaginatively entitled Navigating Zero Gravity, examined the opinions of 1,000 engaged consumers in the United States spanning four generations - Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and the Silent Generation. Those surveyed came from a variety of political, racial and sexual orientations and were probed on 51 current issues spanning cultural, economic, political and societal interests.

"Knowing when to speak up requires a real examination of how your values relate to today's issues," said Kristin Hollins, FleishmanHillard's corporate reputation practice group lead for the Americas. "Our research found that you can maintain loyalty from consumers who might disagree with your position, as long as you explain why you're doing what you're doing and how it relates to your company values."

Among the key findings of the study:

  • Taking a stand and explaining your position will take you far: 66% of U.S. consumers surveyed have stopped using the products and services of a company because the company's response to an issue does not support their personal views. However, if a company can explain why it has taken a particular position, 43% of consumers said they are extremely or very likely to continue to support them, even if they disagree with the position. And 61% surveyed said that even if they disagree with a company's position, they believe it is important for companies to express their views. Amongst just U.S. millennials, that number increases to 75%.
  • Be aware, consumers can smell self-interest: Some 90% of those surveyed said companies often/sometimes take advantage of issues for their own benefit. As a result, 55% of engaged consumers felt less favorable towards the company. Companies must stake positions that are an extension of their values and reflect what their organization is willing to commit to address over time. This is especially true of women and Boomers. 61% of women felt less favorable when they perceived a company was taking advantage of issues for their own benefit. 74% of Boomers and 76% of the Silent Generation felt less favorable. This data shows that taking a stand, or claiming a new position, needs to be in service of a larger purpose.
  • The key is active listening and communicating. 79% of consumers indicate a high likelihood to continue using products/services from companies who are anticipating the culture, social or economic impact of their products and services, and are actively evaluating and communicating changes in policies and evolving company values.

Top ten issues of importance
However, not every issue of importance to consumers carries with it expectations for companies to take a stand, thought. The top ten issues consumers feel are important and have expectations of companies to act on, are:

  1. Sexual harassment
  2. Acceptance of diverse ethnic customs and traditions
  3. Data security
  4. Unemployment
  5. Impact of outsourcing jobs to other countries
  6. Gender pay gap
  7. Acceptance of diverse religious beliefs
  8. Racism
  9. Gender discrimination and equality
  10. Data privacy

"It's critical for organizations to have a firm grasp on the issues that matter most to its stakeholders, and understand how those issues intersect with its own values and business," Hollins said. "While it's impossible to please everyone, it is possible to understand your audiences and their point of view. Companies will benefit from doing their research early and often, knowing this zeitgeist isn't shifting anytime soon."