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Should brands take a public stand on political issues?

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A new survey on the subject of business and politics brings data to this business decision.

Here are the key findings:

1) Most respondents say brands should stay clear of politics.

Nearly half (49%) of overall respondents said brands should not weigh in on political issues. However, it’s not a majority because about one-third said they believe brands should get involved, while another 22% were unsure. Sentiment analysis around this question suggests context matters.

2) Younger respondents more likely to mix business and politics.

A cross-tab analysis by age shows a compelling correlation between age and the viewpoint on this question. Younger people, ages 18-29, were more likely to say brands should take political sides publicly (56%). The older the respondent, the more likely they were to stay brands should abstain from politics.

3) To agree or disagree is a critical question.

If a brand takes a public political position that respondents agreed with, about half (48%) were more likely to make a purchase while the other half (47%) were indifferent. However, the numbers swing the other way if the brand takes a position with which they disagree – 53% were less likely to make a purchase and 40% were indifferent.

4) Women are more likely to act than men.

A cross-tab analysis of this question by gender shows respondents that identified as women were 16% more likely than men to take action against a brand that takes a political position with which they disagree. This shows while men are more likely to say brands shouldn’t get involved in politics, they are also less likely to act if a brand does pick a political side.

5) Quality, convenience, and price have a mitigating effect.

If the quality, convenience or price of a product or service was better than the competition, respondents said they would still buy from a brand even if they took a political position with which they disagree.

This survey was conducted using a commercially available online research panel from October 19, 2018, to October 20, 2018. The poll queried U.S. respondents ages 18-79 about their views about the public endorsement of political views by commercial businesses. A total of 263 respondents completed the survey and has a margin of error at (+/-) 6%. The percentages on individual questions may not add up perfectly to 100% where rounding is applied.

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Should brands take a public stand on political issues?

  1. 1. Should Brands Take a Public Stand on Political Issues? Survey shows the complexity brands must navigate if they do. A survey by Sword and the Script Media, LLC CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  2. 2. Key Findings 1) Most respondents say brands should stay clear of politics. Nearly half (49%) of overall respondents said brands should not weigh in on political issues. However, it’s not a majority because about one- third said they believe brands should get involved, while another 22% were unsure. Sentiment analysis around this question suggests context matters. 2) Younger respondents more likely to mix business and politics. A cross-tab analysis by age shows a compelling correlation between age and the viewpoint on this question. Younger people, ages 18-29, were more likely to say brands should take political sides publicly (56%). The older the respondent, the more likely they were to stay brands should abstain from politics. 3) To agree or disagree is a critical question. If a brand takes a public political position that respondents agreed with, about half (48%) were more likely to make a purchase while the other half (47%) were indifferent. However, the numbers swing the other way if the brand takes a position with which they disagree – 53% were less likely to make a purchase and 40% were indifferent. 4) Women are more likely to act than men. A cross-tab analysis of this question by gender shows respondents that identified as women were 16% more likely than men to take action against a brand that takes a political position with which they disagree. This shows while men are more likely to say brands shouldn’t get involved in politics, they are also less likely to act if a brand does pick a political side. 5) Quality, convenience, and price have a mitigating effect. If the quality, convenience or price of a product or service was better than the competition, respondents said they would still buy from a brand even if they took a political position with which they disagree. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  3. 3. More respondents say brands should not take a stand on political issues, however, it’s not a majority. About one-third think it’s okay and one-fifth are unsure. The fractured responses along with sentiment expressed (shared on subsequent pages in this report) around this question suggests the topic has nuance worth considering. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  4. 4. Gender 31% 53% 16%31% 53% 16% 28% 45% 27% A cross-tab comparison by gender shows men are more likely to believe brands should not take a stand on politics. While more women checked the “unsure” box this is probably more like saying “it depends.” CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  5. 5. 56% 31% 13% 22% 51% 26% 21% 52% 27% 20% 59% 20% A cross-tab comparison by age shows convincingly that younger respondents are more inclined to say brands should take a stand on political issues. Similarly, the older the respondent, the more likely they are to oppose brand involvement in politics. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  6. 6. 48% are more inclined to make a purchase when a brand’s political view mirrors their own. About half of respondents say if a brand takes stand that aligns with their beliefs, they are more likely to make a purchase. The other half are seemingly indifferent. But wait, there’s more… CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  7. 7. 53% are less inclined to make a purchase when a brand’s political view conflict. Disagreement seems to provoke a slightly stronger reaction. Indeed 26% respondents selected “much less likely” versus 17% that selected “much more likely” on the previous question (Q2). This is reminiscent of the principle of loss aversion in marketing: losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good. The brand that picks a political issue it’s constituents disagree with conjures up the proverbial pitchforks. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  8. 8. 46% 21% 23% 34% 32% 28% 44% 60% A cross-tab analysis of this question by gender shows women are 16% more likely than men to take action against a brand that takes a political position with which they disagree. Remember, the cross-tab on the first question (Q1) showed men were more likely to say brands and politics don’t mix. Even so, men seem to be less inclined to take action, even if they disagree with the position taken. Keep in mind details matter and 44% is not zero. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  9. 9. 46% are less inclined to make a purchase when a brand’s political view conflict. Brand loyalty, if it exists for a brand, seems to soften the response slightly. This goes to show it’s not just the issue or position taken that matters. Interestingly, as we’ll see over the next few pages, factors like quality, convenience and price all have a heavier weight than brand loyalty. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  10. 10. 37% say they are less likely down 8% from the question on loyalty. 18% are more or much more likely to put political differences aside over quality. Quality matters. Respondents seemed more willing to put aside their political differences with a brand if the product or service was of higher quality. These percentages visibly changed as compared to the previous question on brand loyalty. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  11. 11. 38% suggest convenience does not make a difference. 17% will put political differences with a brand aside if it’s more convenient. Business already know convenience matters because it appears in value propositions across many different industries. It seems to matter in politics as well since respondents say they are willing to make a purchase from a brand if it saves them time, even if they disagree with a political position. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  12. 12. The pricing of a product or service has about the same weight as quality and convenience. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  13. 13. Why? Along with the first question (Q1) – should brands take a public stand on political issues – we included an optional open ended comment box that asked, “Why?” We received 73 responses in total (19-yes, 35-no, 19-unsure). A word cloud of the responses is near by – the larger the word, the more frequently it was used. A representative sample of verbatim comments can be found on subsequent pages. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  14. 14. Those that answered yes (19): • “They are a part of the community and are entitled to a voice.” • “It’s a free country.” • “It's their right to free speech.” • “Values matter.” • “Because businesses are private entities. They shouldn’t flip flop to appease a select few.” • “Because it will give the people a better feel of the type of people/person that they are patronizing.” • “Because it would probably make more of a difference.” • “Because they can help speak for the victim.” • “Businesses should be permitted to reflect the beliefs of the owners if the owner wishes to do so, and is willing to accept the resulting fall-out, if any.” CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  15. 15. Those that answered no (35): • “Because having a platform doesn't automatically mean you're qualified to assert yourself as a public authority on issues that don't concern your business' field of expertise.” • “Because opinions are bad for business.” • “Businesses and brands shouldn't be affiliated with political parties they should remain neutral.” • “Corporations should stay neutral.” • “I believe they would be taking a risk of losing sales.” • “It may cause them to lose customers and can ruin their reputation.” • “I don't think business and politics should go together this way.” • “I will boycott them. I already do.” • “It is just adding to the divisiveness of our country.” • “It is not their place to push politics.” • “Just sell me a product that l need.” • “It’s not fair to make all stakeholders in a business have to support a social or political agenda. Why can’t people make those choices on their own?” • “They have way more money for political influence than the average citizen.” CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  16. 16. Those that answered unsure (19): • “Depends on the business.” • “Controversy in work places” • “Controversy does not help to sell products; however some products/brands are inherently part of the issue and need to show their stand.” • “I can't imagine they would do so for moral reasons.” • “I think they should carefully consider what they support; charities and children's issues are always good.” • “If a business exists to make money for its investors and owners, taking public stands on political issues can only lead to loss of business from those who do not go along with that view.” • “We have become such a divisive nation that boycotting has become a major political action.” • “If laws made affect the business has a right to be involved.” • “Only if the issue directly affects the business or brand.” CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  17. 17. Demographics CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  18. 18. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  19. 19. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  20. 20. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  21. 21. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  22. 22. Methodology Sword and the Script Media, LLC conducted this survey using a commercially available online research panel from October 19, 2018 to October 20, 2018. The poll queried U.S. respondents ages 18-79 about their views about the public endorsement of political views by commercial businesses. A total of 263 respondents completed the survey and has a margin of error at (+/-) 6%. The percentages on individual questions may not add up perfectly to 100% where rounding is applied. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  23. 23. About Sword and the Script Media, LLC Sword and the Script Media, LLC is veteran-owned public relations agency, based outside of Atlanta, that is dedicated to business-to-business (B2B) technology. The firm builds consistent, sustainable, and process-driven programs for PR, content marketing and social media. The agency publishes weekly blog posts and a monthly newsletter, both of which are available by email subscription. Visit or subscribe online at www.swordandthescript.com. Frank Strong, MA, MBA, is the founder and president of Sword and the Script Media, LLC. He brings about 20 years of experience stemming gigs at PR agencies – small, medium and large – in addition to corporate experience. Prior to starting his own consultancy he spent 10-years in-house at progressively larger businesses including a IT operations startup that was acquired, an acquisitive publicly traded mid-market business, and lastly, experiencing the machinations within a truly global company. His agency grew out of a humble marketing blog Strong started nearly a decade ago. Find him on Twitter: @Frank_Strong or email frank -at- swordandthescript -dot- com CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  24. 24. Still here? Try these good reads: 7 Reasons Your B2B Content Marketing Program Fails to Deliver that You Haven’t Heard Before B2B Marketing Underestimates Effects of Thought Leadership on Sales, Study Finds How to Generate Media Referenceable B2B Customers with a Blog 3 Habits of Highly Successful Bloggers B2B Marketing can Borrow [Study] How B2B Marketing Can Get More out of Trade Shows B2B Blog Metrics: 4 Effective Categories to Measure Success CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com
  25. 25. Sword and the Script Media, LLC www.swordandthescript.com Effective communication is complicated: Just because a message is sent doesn’t mean it’s been received. Just because it’s been received doesn’t mean it’s been understood. Just because it’s been understood doesn’t mean it will affect behavior. Just because it affects behavior doesn’t mean it will affect it in the manner in which we had intended. CC BY-ND 4.0 International | Sword and the Script Media, LLC | www.swordandthescriptmedia.com

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