Emma recently emailed me with a great question. She wanted to know if it was wise for her to raise awareness of a social issue she’s passionate about, via her business. She’s concerned that by taking a stance, she might lose potential customers.
As this is something that can apply to almost every business owner, I thought I’d share my answer with you.
For clarity, when I refer to a stance here, I’m talking about standing up for something that’s important to you, which is outside your business. Something you believe in. Something others will either agree with or disagree with. For example, a social issue, environmental cause or the work of a certain charity, etc.
Here are my thoughts, purely from a marketing perspective. As you’ll see there are upsides and downsides.
Is it always a bad idea to alienate a subset of the marketplace?
No. No it isn’t. Allow me to explain.
As this article from Fast Company confirms, “Customers care not only about what companies sell but also about what they stand for.”
By taking a stance on something that really matters to you, you send some powerful signals to your marketplace.
- You show them that there are ethics behind your business. This is true whether they agree or disagree with your stance.
- You show them that you’re willing to stand-up and lead. Again, this is true regardless of their opinion of your stance.
- You show a segment of your marketplace that something they care passionately about, also matters to you. This forms a strong emotional connection between you and them. It transforms how they feel about you. This kind of connection is enormously valuable. That’s because people make decisions based on how they feel.
In fact, feelings will usually have a more powerful influence on a buying decision, than facts.
If you’ve ever used proven facts, to try and convince someone you are right and they are wrong, you’ll know how powerful feelings are, compared to facts.
A missed opportunity?
Typically, small business owners avoid taking a stance. Yes, they have strong beliefs. We all do. However, they choose to keep them separate from their business.
Because they don’t want to risk alienating any prospective clients, who may hold opposing beliefs. So rather than allow a segment of their marketplace to form a powerful emotional connection with them, they remain silent about what truly matters to them.
They strive to be vaguely relevant to everyone. And as an unavoidable result, they become directly relevant to no one.
And it’s hard, really hard, to grow a business that’s only vaguely relevant.
Marketing to everyone?
I once asked a small business owner, who her ideal client was? She replied:
“Anyone with skin”.
And she was wrong.
For someone to become your client, they have to want (not necessarily need) what you provide. That’s an emotional decision. Sure, they may need a new website, but if they don’t want a new website or they don’t want to hire you to design their new website, they won’t hire you.
By taking a stance, by developing that stronger emotional connection, you give a segment of your marketplace a reason to want to hire you.
Does this mean that you’re guaranteed they will hire you? No. Of course not.
However, if (for example) they’re passionate about helping children in developing nations to have access to clean drinking water, and they see you are too, they’ll know you’re a kindred spirit. They’ll see that what matters to them, matters to you — that you share a worldview. And people prefer to do business with people, who share the same worldview. This is really important. Seth Godin’s value creation checklist placed worldview right at the top.
Big brands already get it
Almost every major brand, visibly supports causes close to them. For example, Walmart takes an environmental stance and donated almost a third of a billion dollars last year alone. Google (Alphabet) takes a stance by supporting the Equal Justice Initiative. And Coca Cola takes a stance by supporting Africa’s Global Environment and Technology Foundation.
I was unable to find any major brand, that doesn’t visibly take a stand in support of a cause they are passionate about.
Your stance can be part of your story
Taking a stance is about making the things that matter most to you, a relevant and visible part of your work. It’s about building a story, which is consistent with your business and your guiding values / passions / ethics.
It isn’t easy. And it isn’t right for every business.
This is especially the case, if your stance is polarizing. That’s to say, a stance that most people will either strongly agree with or strongly disagree with. It’s not uncommon for businesses that take a polarizing stance, to receive abuse / trolling, from those passionately opposed to their stance.
Equally, if your business relies on customers from your local community and your stance is massively unpopular locally, the financial cost can be huge.
In short, there’s no universal right answer. Whether it’s right for you and your business depends on a number of factors. As with every business decision, it pays to do the research, get the feedback you need and then decide.