Top 3 Questions Asked at SXSW About Brands and Politics

By Latia Curry

RALLY Principal Latia Curry presenting at SXSW 2018 on the importance of brands getting political.

At this year’s SXSW conference, I had the opportunity to speak about why engaging with politics is critical for brands, the role millennials play in driving this phenomenon, and a framework for understanding what works and what falls flat. At the end of the talk, I was able to learn more about what attendees representing all kinds of companies from Viacom to The Coca-Cola Company were interested in and where they need help. And of all the conversations I had with these folks, there were three questions that kept coming up:

1. What do you say to companies who want to see results from their advocacy efforts overnight?

Like everything else, businesses like to move fast to get ahead of the competition. However, engaging in the advocacy space is absolutely not the place to jump the gun. And while increase in sales is nice, it can’t be the sole metric. Just like building your overall consumer brand takes time, getting consumers to trust and believe something about your business means taking the time to ensure you are walking the walk.

This means becoming fluent around the issue you are advocating for and why you are advocating in the first place. You must also exemplify this fluency from top to bottom, both internally and externally, from your customers all the way up to external actions directed at policymakers and advocacy groups.

When companies do this, consumers identify and engage with the brand in a deeper way. This does not happen overnight. (Please see Patagonia’s long history as a case study.)

2. What is the role of the CEO?

CEOs can have major impact internally in terms of setting the vision for why and how a company engages with issues. Being at the helm provides an opportunity to inspire and ingrain a belief system in employees that will expand outwards to consumers.

By speaking out publicly, CEOs can also bring a lot of attention to an issue and their company’s connection to that issue. We often see that when a CEO is out front on a cause in an authentic way, speaking about that cause in line with the brand’s values, there is a real impact on perception. It demonstrates credibility and commitment. Having a face to go with a brand’s issue advocacy efforts goes a long way to strengthening the very human and emotional connection consumers feel with the brands they identify with most.

3. How do I convince my leadership to take a step in this direction?

This was the most common question at the event. From a crisis management standpoint, you only have to skim the news to see companies being asked about their opinions on issues more than ever and often being unprepared.

But rather than operate solely from a place of fear — we can provide one core reason to explore engaging with politics proactively — millennials!

As if millennials being the largest generation on the planet, the largest generation in the U.S. labor force and on the verge of entering their prime spending years wasn’t enough, we also know that according to Edelman’s Earned Brand study last year, they are looking for 4 major qualities in a company:

  • to be actively invested in improving society and finding solutions to social problems
  • to prioritize making an impact
  • to be open and honest
  • to make it easier for them to be involved in societal issues

Millennials are definitely getting political. Now is the time for brands to embrace, rather than hide from, that notion. The evidence is clear: when brands offer their consumers a deep, genuine connection, those consumers are more likely to become brand advocates for many years to come.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm that takes on sticky political and social problems and finds ways to push them forward. Latia Curry is a Principal based out of RALLY’s Los Angeles office.