Let's be honest: You'd really love to have something of yours—blog post, video, infographic, social media share, whatever—go viral. Yet the truth is it can be hard to get the attention you crave from the people you want unless your brand is brave enough to have an opinion.
That's scary: Putting what your brand stands for out there for the whole world to see—and criticize. Because no matter how many fans you might gain, you may lose some as well.
But what actually happens when brands dare to have opinions and share them without apology? As the purveyor of a brand I know isn't for everyone (nor would I ever want it to be), I reached out to thought leaders in the branding space and asked. And it turns out that for brands looking to make a mark towards growth, loyalty and the ever-elusive "sharable" content, staying on the sidelines means staying there.
But if you put your business out there, you can get more than impressions or eyeballs. You can find something even richer: your purpose, which can lead to a much deeper connection with customers that can help drive brand affinity and loyalty.
On Fear and Goals
Marc A. Pittman, CEO at The Concord Leadership Group and author of Ask Without Fear, wraps up the fear brands associate with sharing bold opinions: "Opinions seem to be a minefield today. People seem to fly off the handle at the oddest things. Plus, so many brands are preoccupied with appealing to everyone that they have forgotten how to have their own voice."
The risk that rides sidecar with having an opinion means brands have to think about fallout. It's probably not a particularly fun thought to have when they consider the heaps of work they've already done to get the fans they've got.
—Ron Tite, CEO, The Tite Group
But no matter how much brands might think otherwise, there's no brand out there for everyone. So why are some brands afraid their opinions might lose them fans who might not truly be fans they even want for the long haul?
Clay Hebert, marketing strategist and speaker, feels brands push for the wrong outcomes.
"They think the goal of the game is to collect impressions, but the books are cooked," Hebert says. "A brand with an opinion means you're talking to a group of people who believe something, which means you're alienating some people. As Seth Godin says, 'You can't have insiders if you don't have outsiders.'
"Brands playing the eyeballs and impressions game are terrified to have outsiders," he continues, "because alienating some people with a real opinion means those are eyeballs you can't blast and impressions you can't collect...even though leading with a real opinion is the best thing they could do."
For brands stuck in fear mode, there are some drawbacks.
"The middle of the road—and thus the middle of the proverbial bell curve—is, by definition, average," says Tamsen Webster, executive producer of TEDx Cambridge and CEO and founder of Strategic Speaking. "Which means it's not the 'magic middle,' it's the magic muddle, at least where the market's mind is concerned."
"Brands that don't alienate anyone don't really attract anyone on a deeper level either," says Tite. "The difference between 'liking a brand' and 'loving a brand' is rarely about price point or product features. It's usually about the brand's soul: What they stand for and what they support. When brands don't declare their beliefs, they risk being a commodity that is easily replaced."
So how can brands avoid being replaced when all they want to do is be loved by the folks who matter most? They might want to consider focusing on the folks who matter most—first and foremost.
On Guideposts and What's "Appropriate"
"An honest opinion generally will make it clear what your brand stands against," Eisenberg says. "And if you openly say what you stand against, you're most likely going to upset some people. Hopefully those people will be your anti-personas and your competition."
From there, Tite recommends loosening up.
"Lose the jargon and stop having your legal department approve every Facebook reply," he says. "It's not natural, no one understands it and it gets in the way of your unique brand personality."
Speaking of brand personality, don't confuse having an opinion and getting noticed with being loud.
"Stop thinking of messaging as yelling and more as leading," offers Hebert. "Don't craft and scream your messaging at people—that's the 'jerk in the business world' analogy. Instead, ask questions and lead people. What does your brand already stand for? Who are you leading? Where are you leading them?"
And when you're coming into your brand voice—while learning to manage the parallel fallout/disagreements/whoa-that's-crazy responses you never expected—Pittman encourages brands to start small and build their stance from a place of test and feedback.
"Look for small wins," he suggests. "Dip your toe in. See how they respond. And look at more meaningful areas to make a stand."
On Having Opinions with Purpose
Don't worry—I didn't forget the whole "purpose" thing I mentioned above.
I recommend always knowing how the opinion you're sharing relates back to your overall brand purpose. Opinions generally go off the rails when there's a disconnect between what customers know of a brand and what the brand suddenly takes interest in without explanation.
"It's all in how that opinion is delivered—and that can be through deeds, words or both," Webster explains. "The danger comes from two places: a mismatch between expectation of behavior and reality—when a quiet brand suddenly takes a vocal stand, for instance, or vice versa—or a mismatch between expectation of stance and reality, [such as] when a brand people thought would have X opinion actually believes Y."
That can be viewed as violation of trust.
"When a brand doesn't try to be all things to all people, proudly stands up for what they think is important, and doesn't back-pedal when others disagree, they get respect. Trust is critical." Tite says. "And if consumers think for a second that brands are lying to them, trust will disappear. Saying something is always better than speaking without saying anything."
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