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Why do some brands choose to speak out, and others prefer to stay quiet? There are several reasons. Most companies are in the business of building relationships with customers, and they don’t want to upset those relationships by saying something that doesn’t resonate with their customer base. There are companies that have long been successful that are not in the public eye at all, and a decision to change that position can be a double-edged sword.

Several issues drive this discussion. One is that customer relationships have been strained over the years due to news stories that hurt one brand or another (think BP’s oil spill disaster). Many brands choose to take a stand on public topics because they believe employees and consumers will trust businesses and brand names more if they are vocal about their social responsibility and stated values. Consumers will trust brands if they believe they care about their communities and their employees. Consumers want to know where their money is going, what it is doing, and who is making the decisions. They want to know that businesses aren’t just running away from their responsibilities. They want them to be leaders and do what they can to help make a difference.

So those are the primary reasons some businesses decide to speak out and why other companies choose to remain silent.

But beyond those basic reasons is the issue of protecting the brand name. One of the top reasons that some companies decide to speak out and others decide not to is that doing so can be seen as interference. After all, consumers and customers decide who they buy based on how they feel they are being treated and their beliefs. If a company acts in a way that affects these beliefs or causes consumers to believe they are being manipulated, speaking out can harm a brand.

So should brands be silent or take a stand? That’s a tricky question and depends on the market, brand culture, and ability to communicate effectively. That’s why it can be hard to say when a brand should take a stand and when it should just be more concerned with weathering a new cycle. Brands can use many tools to listen to consumer opinion and sentiment on social media, such as Hootsuite and Talkwalker. Tools like this will allow brands to judge their customers’ views on topics as a guide as to whether to speak out or not. If a topic is in line with a brand’s purpose and core beliefs, then it is a matter of integrity to voice an opinion to stay aligned with its customers. There is a careful balance to maintain when speaking out, not enough, and it’s seen as a week token too far, and it is seen as a brand trying to capitalise on an event. Ideally, brands should have a comms plan regarding topics that impact core values and purpose. Sometimes the speed of saying something is also critical so not having to jump through too many hoops is likely to be a good thing.

Lastly, consumers will likely trust brands if they are involved in public issues that negatively affect our nation. This isn’t a new strategy for brands, and it has worked very well for companies like Apple. Apple has been vocal about its environmental efforts and its commitment to sustainability. They’ve used this to create a loyal base of consumers who purchase products that support their mission. Companies need to be politically active, but they must also understand that they must differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack regarding the issues that affect their customers in the present and into the future. If consumers don’t believe companies are doing something to make their world a better place, they are now less likely to buy their products and services.