We live in a time where discourse is increasingly divisive and partisan. But for small businesses and brands, opinionated, one-sided arguments can create reputation management issues. Here are some ideas on how you can express your beliefs with conviction without alienating or insulting people who have a different point of view.
A Marketing 360® client had a problem.
This business sells health food snacks that are based on the paleo diet. While not strictly paleo, they are paleo-friendly.
Their target audience is anchored in the health food world that has many connections to vegetarians and vegans.
However, their products all contain meat as the main ingredient. They promote eating meat as a healthy source of protein.
More than once on social media and through email, they’ve gotten feedback from vegetarians/vegans who claimed to like the positioning of their company, with the exception of how they “murdered animals” and “destroyed the environment” to produce their products.
At first, the business had an impulse. They wanted to shoot back a response declaring that these non-meat eaters were extremist wackos. They were prepared to argue that often, a non-meat diet is unhealthy and unnecessary.
In short, they wanted to tell these people to stick their tofu where the sun doesn’t shine.
But to their credit, they didn’t. They took a balanced approach.
Balance Your Argument
Professional writers get training on how to structure an argument effectively. This training helps them understand and respect all points of view on an issue.
When the people at the paleo snack company took a moment to reflect, they realized that they like and respect people who choose to be vegetarians or vegans. They didn’t have an interest in starting an argument with these people, even though the foundation of their company is based on eating meat.
So when it came to addressing this issue on social media and in their blog, they didn’t confront vegetarians with an argumentative voice.
Instead, they opened with a positive, affirming voice. They acknowledged how they respected people’s decisions to have a diet that excluded meat, noting how they had friends and family that chose that diet.
Then, they explained their position both as meat eaters and as a company that uses meat products. They detailed the healthy advantages of consuming some meat and explained how they did everything possible to use product that is humanely raised.
They agreed on issues of environmental stewardship, and also noted that food production as a whole is far from perfect.
Their content made their points with clarity and skill while doing nothing to antagonize or insult those on the other side of the argument.
The Good News First
So here’s a trick you can use from that professional writing training.
When dealing with a controversial topic that has multiple sides to it, start your argument by saying something positive about the people you disagree with.
In other words, acknowledge their point of view and empathize with their feelings.
This is a powerful position to take, and not just because it diffuses the initial disagreement.
When you acknowledge the other side’s perspective with respect, it demonstrates confidence in your own opinion. You don’t have to belittle or insult your opponent to make your point.
Start out with what the other side gets right. Make it clear that you’ve listened to what they said and understand where they’re coming from.
Then go into what you believe. As you contrast your ideas with a balanced understanding of the other side, you’ll make the strongest case for your side of the discussion.
Brand Voice and Reputation Management
The paleo snack company maintained professionalism and presented their viewpoint in a valid way when they decided against taking a divisive tone.
But they did more than that. They also maintained a brand voice that kept them from seeming petty or insensitive. After all, they weren’t just speaking from an individual’s point of view. Their statements were reflective of their brand itself.
Imagine if they’d decided to make the tofu crack on social media or in a blog. That impulsive moment would have been digitally engraved and associated with their brand.
This is the essence of what can become a reputation management crisis. What started as a valid difference of opinion gets magnified online into something that makes the brand look crass.
This is never good. No one wants to connect with (or buy from) a brand that demeans another’s point of view.
As a matter of reputation management, it’s vital that you maintain a professional, balanced voice.
Taking A Stand
So you believe in a cause, down to your core. That belief is even ingrained in your brand image.
You want to take a stand. Express yourself with conviction. Make your point without ambiguity.
This is a valid approach for a brand. Taking a stand while expressing an authoritative point of view is one of the best ways to gain attention for your content. If you’re ever going to approach going “viral” online, it will be because you made an authoritative, gutsy point in your content.
But even when you push the limits, keep the points we’ve made here in mind. If you have to insult others and dismiss their perspective to make your point, you’re crossing into a different type of writing that’s best reserved for individuals disassociated from a brand concept.
As an individual, you can voice your opinion as you wish so long as you’re prepared for the blowback. If you’re going to dish it out, be prepared to take it.
But the reputation management issues for a brand that stews extreme controversy are not worth it. Maintain the balanced, professional approach.
There are a lot of inflammatory voices online, many trying to gain attention by being as crass and loud as possible. Many people pass off momentary statements of opinion as absolute statements of truth.
It’s a race to the bottom.
For brand and business content, have the conviction and guts to say what you believe in. But be respectful of other viewpoints and balanced in your arguments. Avoid blurring opinions with facts. Don’t give in to the temptation to lash out with insults and slander.
We live in trying times when it comes to communicating with respect. Try anyway.
Win the race to the top.