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Successful brands are brave brands

If anything, 2018 has shown us that it’s no longer enough for brands to simply have values – instead, they’re expected to bring these values to life through publicly expressed views and actions. Whereas the rules for brands amidst controversy used to be, “stay away”, “be neutral”, “don’t take sides”, consumers now expect brands to do the exact opposite – engage, have a point of view, stand up for a cause. Things are changing, and businesses need to change too.

This is why conversation around brand courage will only intensify in 2019.

Businesses and CEOs have an opportunity to speak out on issues related to their values and purpose. Indeed, the current political environment, and Brexit in particular, mean that their contribution to public discourse and wider society is more important than ever.

For some brands, this courage and the willingness to be vocal about issues that matter to them and their audiences will come naturally. It is part of their DNA and its expression will continue to evolve with time. For others, this may be completely virgin territory. What if you’ve never got involved in a social or political issue in the past? This is where brands will be treading a fine line, as the risk of coming across as inauthentic is significant.

When thinking about brand courage, here are some considerations that can help steer your approach:

1. Stay true to your brand

What is the ethos of your brand? (A strong brand always has one.) What are your internal brand values, and how do they translate to what’s happening in the world around you? Your courage must stem from your beliefs as a brand. If not, it puts you at risk of coming across as insincere or worse, commercialising a cause.

2. Don’t compromise on credibility

Create or enter a conversation in your known area of expertise. For example, if you’re a sports brand, it only makes sense to have a stance on an issue that concerns some part of your industry. If you have credibility in the space you’re voicing an opinion in, your audience is more likely to take you seriously.

3. Remember that data does not lie

It’s so critical to really understand what your external audience wants from you as a brand, and therefore doing your research, and doing it well, is essential. What are the issues they care about and feel that you, as their favourite, trusted brand, have the power to influence? Does your audience even care whether you take a stance on an issue? Only data can tell.

4. Look to your employee culture

Employees are your internal audience, and coupled with consumers or businesses you work with, they should have just as much input into what your brand should stand for. After all, employees who are at the heart of a brand’s communications strategy are the ones who make its best advocates.

Brand courage – rooted in purpose and communicated in an authentic way to build trust – is the communication zeitgeist of the new year.

On 4 December, Jo-ann Robertson will be hosting an evening of TED-style talks focused on brand courage, contact

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