Should Your Brand Take a Stand?It is a general belief that when a brand takes a stand on a controversial topic that they may face backlash from its customers. Sales may dip, boycotts may ensue, and customers may express their opposition on social media. In the past year or so, major brands have become embroiled in social and political issues that have alienated customers at times and incited vocal opposition.

Some examples of companies supporting controversial positions include:  a Chick-fil-A top executive affirming the company’s stance against same-sex marriage; Starbucks publicly advocating same-sex marriage; and Hobby Lobby refusing to comply with a federal mandate requiring all employer health plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.

In light of these controversial positions, WrightIMC, a full-service Internet marketing agency, posed the following question, which also became the impetus for its research:  How much of a risk is there to the bottom line by taking a well-researched stand?

WrightIMC surveyed more than 3,000 consumers with diverse regional, economic, and age differences. Research was also conducted on controversial positions or viewpoints from five major U.S. brands in the recent past and how it affected business. WrightIMC’s survey data and case study results form the basis of the white paper: Should Your Brand Take A Stand?

The research findings show that brands that support a controversial position may encounter an initial decline in sales in the month or so following the controversy. But sooner or later, people will forget about the controversy, and forgive the company if the product is high-quality enough.

A company’s stance helps the brand increase its Internet presence and should enhance its search engine optimization plan while relying on its high-quality products to maintain any returning customers. As the cliché goes, “any press is good press.”

One of the most important pieces of advice that Tony Wright, Founder and CEO of WrightIMC, has to offer is that companies need to ensure they’re financially stable enough and prepared with a plan to address the topic before publicly supporting their stand.

Other important aspects of the survey show that differing attitudes towards controversial topics depend on age, income and geographic positioning. Research shows that consumers in the Northeast have stronger political stances than those in the South.

“Every company that contemplates taking a public and controversial position must first determine if it believes it will have the support of its employees, some or most customers, and other constituencies,” said WrightIMC Founder and CEO Tony Wright. “That said, our research shows that consumers in general will support like-minded companies, and there are plenty of consumers to go around in most instances. Know your audience and a strong point of view can grow it, with some additional fringe benefits.”