One of the “easy” ways to get visibility for your brand online is to piggyback a trending topic. Online marketers often leverage trending hashtags on Twitter, repurpose news stories to cash in on audience attention or chime in on a current cultural question in a way that ties back to their products.
All of that is fine.
When done right, it helps you build brand culture and engage with consumers. But before you jump into those waters, make sure you know how to build a brand without alienating the market or turning consumers against you.
Avoiding the Point Where Politics Meets Trending
There’s a difference between what’s trending online and what’s trending politically, though sometimes the two meet in what invariably becomes a Web brawl played out across media blogs and Twitter posts. For many brands, that central clashing point in the diagram is to be avoided. Here’s why:
- Politically hot topics may garner attention, but there are a lot of people crowding the stage. What little awareness you can get for your brand may not be worth the risk.
- Trending politics tend to evoke raw emotions from those who follow or respond to it online, which doesn’t always translate into conversion or even good will for your brand.
- When emotions are running high, it’s too easy to step slightly outside someone’s perception of where the lines are, and tagging along for the hashtag trend could quickly turn into a nightmare PR situation for your company.
Staying Safe to Build a Brand Online
While most brands may want to steer clear of content cocktails that feature a mix of trending and political, choosing one or the other as a consistent foundation isn’t always a bad thing. Brands that play up fun, trending elements online take the safest of the two routes, though you should never underestimate the power of fandoms. If you’re going to join in as a way to build a brand online, make sure you’re part of the fandom and not preaching to the fandom from an outside soapbox.
How do you do that?
Consider REI’s Zombie Survival Gear infographic. The brand, which sells adventure and camping gear, jumps on The Walking Dead wagon with this clever content piece. It works especially well because REI incorporates both realistic gear and a clear understanding of zombie fandom, even creating a recommended research list containing links to the show and other books and comics on zombies.
On the other side of the diagram are brands that are consistently political, and not necessary only in a trending way. These brands choose a cause or political vision, and they stand behind it at all times; sometimes the product or mission itself is political in nature. Other times, the founder just has a very specific outlook and is happy with maintaining a customer base of like thinkers.
Often, this type of branding becomes outreach or philanthropic in nature, such as TOMS giving away shoes for every purchase made. Historically, this is where “politics” stopped with most brands, and it’s still the safe area for those that don’t want to risk alienating potential customers.
How to Build a Brand By Taking Risks
Of course, safe and slow isn’t always the way to win the race, and some brands do want to take risks and shake things up. Brand strategist Gareth Fox even says many consumers want brands to get more political. If you plan to build your brand online with a political bent, here are some tips to keep out out of the middle of a virtual riot:
- Work with or hire someone with political branding expertise. It’s not enough to know what’s trending: you need someone who can help you predict the response to certain messages so you know when your brand can get involved without risking everything.
- Incorporate political polling into your market research. If you’re going to champion a cause for your audience, ensure it really is a cause for your audience.
- Be sincere. Brands that engage in backlash marketing just to get a cut of the pie are typically found out by the market. One thing the internet does seem to agree on: it doesn’t like brand fakery.
- Always be prepared for the response. Taking up a political cause will alienate someone, so do the marketing research to ensure your brand won’t lose more than it gains.
Unless your brand is politics, remember that political stances should take a back seat to the ultimate goal of your business, which is likely serving or providing for customers in some way. If you’re so embroiled in a riot related to current events, fandoms or any other emotion-heavy topic, you can’t serve your customers or even engage them in the best possible manner.