Social Issues: 5 Factors to Consider when Taking a Stand

Use our Social Issues Scorecard to determine whether or not to take a stand.

Everyone’s got an opinion – on everything. And everywhere you look, there’s a new, potentially polarizing issue emerging. It’s hard to believe that there was a time, not long ago, when people wouldn’t even consider bringing some of these topics up at their dinner table. Now, they expect companies and brands to not only have a point of view, but to speak up and use their corporate voice to drive change.

In fact, consumers have higher expectations that brands and CEOs speak out and take a stand on an issue than they did just two years ago.  Numerous studies demonstrate that consumers are willing to pay more for products from companies who have similar values and beliefs, are more brand loyal to those organizations, and are more willing to offer them grace in the face of adversity.

From an employee perspective, according to a survey by JobSage, more than 3 in 5 respondents want their employer to take a stand on social issues, a number that increases for African Americans, Gen Z and women. That same survey found that nearly 1 in 4 respondents said they had declined a job offer or opted not to apply at a company based on its stance on social issues, and more than 1 in 4 indicated they would take a pay cut to work at a company that took a stand on social issues they considered important.

But, you can’t be all things to all people, and you can’t speak out on everything. So as an organization, how do you know when you should take a stand on an issue?

It’s not easy. It can be difficult for leaders to separate their personal beliefs and values from that of the organization or brand. And, these decisions can have major implications from a business standpoint.

Target, Kohls, Anheuser-Busch, and others faced backlash in June for their support of Pride and LGBTQ+ issues – with some companies now being deemed “woke capitalists”.

When you’re deciding whether or not to take a stand on an issue, there are five key points to consider.

  1. Does the issue align with your company’s vision, mission and brand? In other words, is this an issue that’s relevant to who you are and what you do as an organization? Does it directly impact your key stakeholders or business? It’s important to separate personal feelings from what makes sense from a business perspective.
  2. Have you considered all points of view? While there may be one group of stakeholders that feel extremely passionately one way, there’s likely to be another group that feels passionately in the opposite direction. Consider ALL points of view when deciding whether or not to take a stand on an issue. For organizations with international operations or reach, this becomes even more difficult, as social issues are viewed differently around the globe.
  3. Are you adding value to the conversation, or are you just another voice? Taking a stand just to take a stand isn’t helpful, and consumers will see right through you. If you’re going to take a stand, make sure it’s because you’re contributing something meaningful to the conversation, you’re actively committing to/driving change or you’re offering solutions.
  4. What are you hoping to achieve by taking a stand? As noted in the point above, if you are truly taking a stand to demonstrate support for your key stakeholders, to help drive change or because you can make a difference, go for it. If, on the other hand, you’re doing it because you feel like you have to, you’re facing pressure from various stakeholders or because you’re looking for your minute in the spotlight, you should think again.  
  5. Are you walking the talk? By taking a stand or speaking out, you’re opening yourself up to scrutiny. Be prepared to show what you’re doing to be part of the solution, and make sure your internal house is in order before speaking out.

While it’s impossible to plan for every possible scenario or issue, there are a few things you can do to be more prepared when things arise.

  1. Develop a social impact strategy. Consider what issues are most important to your key stakeholders (including, first and foremost, your own employees) and what’s most important to your business. Identify those issues that overlap (think Venn diagram) as a starting point of where you should be prepared to take a stand on an issue. Do your homework ahead of time and think through your positioning and POV. You can find a few best practices here.
  2. Create a social issues scorecard. This tool establishes criteria and a process for vetting and scoring whether or not to take a stand on an issue. This will help take some of the emotion out of the decision-making process and ensure a consistent approach. Padilla’s created several customized social issues scorecards for brands and organizations to evaluate whether or not to make a statement.
  3. Understand you can’t be all things to all people. When you speak out about everything, you’re just creating noise and you lose credibility. Identify the issues that are most meaningful and relevant to your organization, make sure you’re walking the talk, and be honest and transparent in your communications.

Need help navigating whether or not you should take a stand on a social issue? Or making sure you’re prepared for the next hot button topic? Contact our Social Impact team

For our thoughts on communication and brand strategy, industry trends and more, subscribe to Padilla Insights here. This post was updated from April 2021, and originally written by Brian Ellis.

Related Posts: Food Values in South America Focus Your Post-Pandemic Evolution with Familiar Strategy Tools Brands create expectations. Experiences reinforce them. (Part 1) Can Health Care Brands Join the Election Conversation? Telling a Food Brand’s Story Has Never Been More Important 4 Questions to Ask Before Taking a Stand on a Social Issue