Despite hesitation by many brands to weigh in on politics, the majority (66%) of customers actually want brands to take a stand on big issues, according to a new Sprout Social study emailed to Retail Dive.
Social media is apparently the go-to place to do it: 58% of respondents said they'd be open to political messages from brands on that platform. However, 66% said brand posts rarely influence their opinions and retailers would be better-served by announcing donations to a cause on social (39%) or encouraging followers to take their own steps toward a cause (37%).
According to Sprout Social, most customers react well to brands taking political stances, especially if a customer's personal beliefs align with the brand's, as 28% will publicly praise the brand and 44% will purchase more from the brand. That works both ways, though: 20% will publicly criticize a brand if they disagree with the stance they've taken and 53% will purchase less from the brand.
As customers become more invested in their favorite brands, some retailers have begun to overlook the old taboo and take firmer stances on both social and political issues.
Outdoors retailers have been at the forefront of many of those movements, with both Patagonia and REI taking bold stances on Black Friday — REI for urging customers to #OptOutside instead of participating in the commercialist shopping spree and Patagonia for giving its 2016 Black Friday profits to grassroots environmentalist causes.
The latter has also become more vocal during the Trump administration, launching its first TV ad in response to moves by President Donald Trump that threatened public lands and national monuments. That was followed up by a bold statement that cropped up temporarily on the retailer's website in December, accusing President Donald Trump of using an illegal move to reduce the size of public lands in "the largest elimination of protected land in American history." But these moves can backfire as well, as we saw with Donna Karan's controversial statements on Harvey Weinstein and sexual assault back in October.
According to the Sprout Social study, these more liberal stances could perform better for retailers, as nearly 80% of liberals said they want brands to take a stand, while that number sank to 52% for conservatives. Conservatives also found retailers to be less credible when taking a stand, with only 46% buying into the political message, compared to 82% of liberals who thought a retailer's stance was genuine. According to both parties, brands are most credible when the issue they're discussing impacts their customers (47%), employees (40%) and business operations (31%).
The topic also has an impact on how consumers will respond. Not every issue is one that should be tackled by a retailer, but consumers felt most strongly about retailers making a stance on human rights (58%), labor laws (55%), poverty and gender equality (both 48%), and education and the environment (both 45%).
That's good news for retailers catering to Gen Z — the youngest generation is eager for brand interaction, and 55% of the group chooses brands because they're eco-friendly and socially responsible. Taking a political stance on issues that matter to this generation could have a big impact on winning over customers who are both loyal and engaged.