In today’s national and political environment in which everyone seems to have – and express – an opinion on a particular topic, it can be tempting for companies to join in the fray. Taking such a position can generate positive PR. However, just as often, it creates blowback that can harm a brand for years to come.
Since almost everyone seems to be communicating their opinion these days, I thought I would convey mine on the topic of tying email campaigns to political views, current events or social causes.
- Political Views: Although politics seems to be top of mind these days, I would advise extreme caution for companies considering communicating their opinion as part of an email or social media campaign. There is likely little upside -- and tremendous downside -- to taking a stand on a particular political issue. While some of your customers may admire your company for taking a stand, just as many can and will stop or even boycott using your product if they disagree with your stated opinion. There may be the rare exceptions for businesses operating almost exclusively on the side of your viewpoint, but political outliers almost surely exist in any example you can think of.
But if you do want to proceed with a politically themed message, be cognizant of how this supports your company, products and brand. Consider adding a personal touch by having your message attributed exclusively to a leader of your company. Be prepared to handle any negative blowback, and respond positively to those who may disagree with your stated opinion. Also, note that there also may be just as many among your audience who may be experiencing political fatigue, who will simply tune out any political message, regardless of whether they agree or not.
- Current events: Tying your email campaign to a recent event may present an opportunity to rally your customers and prospects and promote your brand in a positive light (such as generating or matching donations to provide aid for a recent natural disaster.) But note that you’ll need to move fast while the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind, or you may miss the window of opportunity. In addition, campaigns can also be misinterpreted in ways that the creators might not have intended or even imagined, such as when Spirit Airlines referenced the Gulf Oil Spill in its communications, only to learn that many interpreted its message as making light of a serious environmental disaster. (Lesson: humor should never be used in communicating serious events or issues.)
- Social causes: Businesses have long supported charities and social causes to have their brands reflect positively in the minds of their customers and prospects. And with 94% of consumers believing that businesses should do more than just make money, there are certainly business benefits to be had in supporting social causes. Recent studies show that charitable donations can increase sales, enhance customer loyalty and boost your brand reputation. Yet here too, while there are seemingly causes that appear to have no downside (such as supporting the Special Olympics), there are just as many that can paint a company into a political corner and potentially alienate a certain population of your customers. Communications of noble causes can be also mishandled, such as when the World Wildlife Fund tried to draw attention to the East Asian Tsunami, but did so comparing it to the 9/11 disaster, offending many.
When done properly, tying B2B emails to political views, current events or social causes can generate alignment, empathy or support from your customers and prospects, and engender loyalty to your company and brand. But there are huge, potentially damaging landmines that can just as easily cause your seemingly admirable campaign to backfire, potentially leading to long-term damage to your reputation.
The bottom line? The best advice may be to avoid high-risk, low-reward approaches, and instead stick to the value proposition of your business offerings, which should be able to stand on their own without a political, newsy or charitable message.
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