Consumer Activism: Just Getting Started
Since the inauguration of president Trump, we've seen protests seemingly organized on a dime whether it be The Women's March, The March for Life or the recent immigration protests at local airports. These actions, however will not be limited to the protests in public but also in protests of the purse or at least the #hashtag. Case in point—when Uber announced that it would be removing surge pricing to pick up the slack caused by NYC cab drivers who joined immigration protests it was seen by some customers as profiting from an issue they vehemently disagreed with.
And from this, the #Deleteuber "movement" was born with people screen grabbing their deletion of the app, swearing allegiance to Uber's competition and encouraging peers to do the same. While consumer activism isn't new by any stretch of the imagination—today's record levels of distrust in once trusted institutions (see Edelman's Trust Barometer) combined with peer connectivity sets the stage for a dramatic increase of the phenomena.
From Brand Awareness to Consumer Activism
For brands to raise their level of readiness in an era where consumer activism becomes more commonplace—marketers must think about four key stages in addition to the traditional funnel. Each stage carries with it a positive or negative impact for a brand.
+ Positive: Consumer has general awareness of a brand and its values and finds them relevant
- Negative: Consumer has low awareness of brand and its values and brand is not relevant
+ Positive: Consumer has a high affinity for the brand and preference as a result
- Negative: Consumer has low affinity for the brand and does not show loyalty
+ Positive: Consumer will recommend brand to others and actively promote it
- Negative: Consumer will speak negatively about brand and actively criticize it
+ Positive: Consumer will actively defend or take action which benefits brand
- Negative: Consumer will actively take action which damages brand (reputation or financial)
Earning Trust in an Era of Consumer Activism
Emerging societal demands and divides combined with peer connectivity provide the perfect storm for consumer activism and brands must find ways to earn not only the loyalty but trust of their consumers. Edelman's 2016 Earned Brand study outlines that most brands engage consumers in a way that interest and involve them but fall short of getting them invested to the point where consumers would advocate on their behalf or act as "activists" in their favor.
Some brands are taking a proactive stance as this emerging dynamic intensifies. *Starbucks recently committed to hiring 10,000 refugees in in five years while clearly articulating their values. AirBnB announced that stranded refugees could stay for free and Lyft pledged a million dollars to support the ACLU.
Handle With Care: Consumer Activism Will Force Brands to Examine Their Values
If nothing else, consumer activists will force brands to ask themselves "what do we stand for"? The biggest risk for a brand in dealing with a low trust environment is to act inauthentically, contrived or in a way that feels opportunistic. Still, consumers will continue to evaluate brands not only by how relevant they are in their lives—but how responsible they feel they are. Or to put it another way, how much they feel they have in common in terms of their values. If a brand today cannot express or articulate those values—it risks leaving its intent and action open to interpretation.
*Starbucks is an Edelman client