With Millennials, Your Company’s Response to Issues Makes Every Day Election Day for Your Brand

November 6, 2018

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At no time more than this U.S. midterm election week has it been so apparent that we are living in divisive times.

Myriad events in recent months have focused the world’s attention on an array of issues, exposing the raw, emotional nerves of society and polarizing populations here and abroad. And more often than not, once an issue surfaces, the only chance it stands of quickly escaping the zeitgeist is if another equally provocative issue happens to steal its thunder — and even then, the distraction usually is temporary.

By now, we’ve all observed how a company’s response — or lack thereof — to a given issue can affect its reputation, with the results manifested in the form of spiking or collapsing sales, recruitment and retention, productivity, shareholder value and other important performance metrics.

While more companies have made their positions known on issues lately, it’s no surprise that many more remain silent for fear of alienating customers, shareholders and employees. What may surprise you, though, is that even millennials — often perceived to be more socially conscious than other generations — are not aligned when it comes to expectations of how companies should respond to most issues.

In fact, out of the 51 issues we examined as part of the 2018 FleishmanHillard Authentic Insights study, millennials held a majority viewpoint on only one when it comes to what companies should speak out about: acceptance of diverse ethnic customs and traditions … with 52 percent of this group expecting companies to take a stand on the matter.¹

For reference, a few of the other top issues people expect companies to take a stand on included sexual harassment, data security, unemployment, the outsourcing of jobs to other countries and the gender pay gap — all of which saw fewer than half of millennial respondents expecting companies go to the mat on the topics.2

Is it because millennials really don’t care after all? Highly doubtful. More likely: they’ve lost confidence in companies’ desires to draw a line in the sand with respect to what they feel is right on specific issues, presumably because the organizations fear retribution from those who might not agree with the position.

And actually … even though millennials hold a majority viewpoint on just a single issue, they still expect companies to act upon their convictions. Overall, 61 percent of our survey respondents said that even if they disagree with a company’s position on an issue that is important to them, they believe it is important for companies to express their views. And if your customer base includes millennials, that expectation to speak out climbs to 75 percent.3

That figure is hard to ignore. And it clearly points to white space for more companies to start taking an authentic stand on issues they care about … and building brand affinity among millennials.

It’s an important reminder — during a week when all eyes are on the outcome of the vote — that this influential generation is voting on your brand every day. And with an aggregate annual income expected to exceed $4 trillion by 2030, it’s a vote that counts in a big way.4

¹²3TRUE Global Intelligence. Authentic Insights Survey. 2018. https://fleishmanhillard.com/
4 Brookings. How to harness the spending power of millennials: Move beyond the US