This week, Patagonia came out publicly against the President’s decision to shrink national monuments in Utah and Nevada. Generally, the company is receiving accolades for its action. But, as with most things in this politically divisive era, there are supporters and dissenters. This begs the question: Should a brand engage in social and political conversations? If so, which ones? And, when?
While answers to these questions are not always clear cut, there is a lot we can learn from Patagonia:
1. Know your story.
I’ve been following Patagonia for a while, often referring to them when I’m presenting on brand purpose and social enterprise. As a certified B Corporation, Patagonia has a history of environmental ethics and stewardship going back to their early days introducing clean climbing.
Through public service and advocacy, supply chain transparency and a commitment to environmentally sound innovation, Patagonia has a firm grasp on its story: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Before an organization can actively participate in a discussion at any level, it must first have a clear purpose. As it is with Patagonia, brand purpose can be a guidepost, defining not just your position on issues, but also which issues to pursue.
2. Engage for the right reasons.
Leaders and organizations who bring passion, authenticity and a genuine interest to a conversation are more effective. Patagonia’s advocacy and outspoken approach to trying to protect the outdoors is built into their mission and taps into what many enthusiasts view as a way of life.
The company has also established credibility over time. They aren’t entering the conversation for the first time. If an issue doesn’t align with your purpose or values and you can’t bring something authentic to the table, it is probably not the right conversation.
3. Focus on what matters.
Having an opinion on an important issue can mean sticking your neck out, which often requires a thick skin. In my experience, it can be difficult for some people to encounter negativity. It’s important to determine your comfort level with criticism and how you will choose to respond.
Focusing on what matters also means who matters; keeping attune to the people you are helping with your advocacy as well as the response from stakeholders. In the case of Patagonia, the support from customers and the chance to educate the public may outweigh any distractions from naysayers.
While many companies choose to be apolitical, it may be time to follow brands, like Patagonia, who are willing to engage on issues that align with their purpose. Eighty percent of business professionals believe businesses have a responsibility to look beyond profit and make a positive impact on society, yet only one-third say their company is actively engaged in public policy (Salesforce Research).
I believe the changes we’re seeing today, with brands (like Patagonia) stepping up on social, environmental and political issues, is a result of the changing opinions and expectations of employees and customers. I also believe these companies will rewarded accordingly.
Interested in learning more about how brands can engage on social or political issues? You may enjoy this post from May 2017, How Businesses Can Drive a More Purposeful Conversation. You may also enjoy tuning in to The Corporate Purpose Podcast. Available wherever you listen to podcasts.