Bold Brand Move? Don’t Forget to Prep Your Employees

Nike’s recent launch of their Colin Kaepernick ad campaign made waves well beyond the world of sports. Some referred to the move as “bold”, others called it “radical”. Whatever adjective you use, Nike knew that linking their brand with a polarizing figure was going to ruffle some feathers.

Nike isn’t the only company that has taken a stance on a political or social topic lately. There is a fine line between a brand taking a position and a publicity stunt. Most consumers will see right through a veiled attempt to garner free media exposure. In this case, the estimated $43 million in media coverage wouldn’t be worth it if the stance did not say something tangible about the brand. Likewise, for this type of move to pay off, customer-facing teams need to be given clear directions on what the company’s stance means for them.

Reaction + Response
Nike knew the move was going to illicit backlash. Similarly, marketing teams need to consider the range of reactions they may receive and equip their customer-facing teams – stores, call centers, retail partners – with direction on how to respond. For example, protests included burning Nike apparel along with demonstrations outside store locations. How should an employee handle this type of consumer reaction? How can they support the company position without adding fuel to the fire of unhappy customers? If a company does not properly prepare their teams, the brand will appear fragmented, which may do more long-term damage than good.

Capitalize on the Good Will
It is important to be prepared to address your critics. However, it is even more important to know how to embrace the consumers who will gravitate to the brand. This is the biggest opportunity in the whole equation. How does the Kaepernick stance connect to other Nike-sponsored athletes? What does it say about someone who buys Nike? This move was meant to embolden sympathizers of Colin Kaepernick to embrace the Nike brand. Employees should understand how to connect with that audience.

Making it Stick
The noise surrounding the Kaepernick campaign will eventually die down, but that doesn’t mean things will go back to “normal” for the brand. Nike made a strong statement about what they stand for, which will have implications well into the future. Likewise, Nike’s employees and partners need to be involved in a dialogue about how this stance impacts their position on other issues. Not long after the Kaepernick unveiling, fellow Nike athlete and lightning rod, Serena Williams, was at the center of a debate about sexism in tennis. Will Nike weigh in on this subject? Are all social issues in play for the apparel brand? The answers are not simple, and Nike is likely to address issues on a case-by-case basis. However, employees need to know how to connect this stance to the broader Nike brand platform, so the benefits can extend beyond just a brief surge in attention.

A New Era
Brands are looking for ways to deepen their relationship with like-minded consumers. Political and social issues offer brands a clear opportunity to distinguish themselves from other companies. However, choosing to take a bold brand position does not come without risk. Companies need to carefully consider how the stance will impact their relationship with consumers and involve their brand representatives in the process. While employees might not decide the next campaign, they do have the ability to reinforce the company position during each customer interaction.

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