Companies don’t like to express any opinion. The negative consequences can be proportional to the scale of the business involved, and even if they have the best intentions, they risk reputational damage, being accused of politicizing issues or alienating stakeholders who were not considered and consulted. Just this year, we’ve seen Disney, one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world, come under fire (both internally and externally) for not taking a stand on Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, and then the political fallout when he corrected course.
But this is an extreme example that contains an element of public protection. When I say that brands should be comfortable with having an opinion about something, it’s more about being able to lead the conversation and contribute meaningfully to it. It may seem trivial, but there are many brands that don’t even try out of fear, apathy, or a general reluctance to get involved. However, there is much to be gained from having opinions and thoughts, especially when it comes to B2B communication.
Just as in debate, power and validity come from the ability to argue and justify one’s position. And when a brand can express a well-formed and thought-out opinion, even about something that isn’t provocative or just tangential to its business, it pays off.
If we get technical for a second, companies are their own people. This has a legal basis in the form of “corporate personhood” – the idea that a corporation can have the same legal rights and obligations as an individual, despite not having the same form (the United States exemplifies this idea, going so far as to say that corporations can in certain cases reject government mandates based on religion). It’s a controversial idea (I wouldn’t encourage companies to express their opinion), but it lays the groundwork for understanding how companies want to perceive themselves and operate, from family-owned stores to giants like Disney.
With the advent of digital media in the 21st century, a new facet of the corporation as a “person” has appeared. One that didn’t focus on legality, but rather on building an identity and building relationships with consumers. Digital marketing strategies that leveraged popular platforms and channels required companies to have their own voice, communicate in a more relatable, human manner, and have their own opinions and mannerisms. But, at the same time, there is a desire to remain as centrist and inoffensive as possible. And this desire can prevent them from participating. Unfortunately, this also applies to communicating with industry players and partners, a space and an audience that are more accustomed to discussing and sharing new ideas.
Sharing is legible
A brand personality needs to show some depth, and this comes in the form of a company that comments and reacts to world events. For example, technology companies need to keep an eye on the latest innovations. They should not be afraid to call out trends that they believe are overrated or sensationalized. (I’m looking at you, Web3.) By sharing this, they’re not only enabling conversation and inspiring others, they’re also demonstrating their expertise.
To be very clear, no two companies are the same when it comes to the character of the brand and the opinions they allow themselves to have. There are a number of officials, executive team members and founders who may not see the benefit or be inclined to comment on the world around them. And that’s normal. But this does not mean that the conversation should end there.
Companies must trust their respective marketing professionals and agencies to articulate and best articulate the ideas and opinions they bring to the table. One of the biggest challenges PR companies face is that clients refuse to open up. This applies both to the business as a whole and to individuals who are part of it. When sitting down for an interview with a company executive, this company expert should be encouraged to go beyond the prepared questions. Let them share their interests and their passions. Ask them to predict the future and comment on new developments and innovations. In this way, the foundation is laid on which research, customer feedback and communication, as well as targeted publications, should be developed.
Sharing your opinion on something related to your business doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the headlines as long as it’s eloquent, well-chosen, and on-brand.