Optimism at its most basic level is inextricably linked to marketing and advertising. It’s at the heart of the sales pitch that’s embedded in every piece of collateral and content marketers create. What you’re offering, this thing your company or brand creates … it’s going to improve your customers’ lives in some way, right? That’s optimism.
Marketing efforts can offer a vision of hope and positivity that goes well beyond what just a product alone can provide. That’s the power of the brand. And all kinds of brands have historically tapped into their customers’ aspirations for a brighter future. But what happens when consumers don’t agree on what constitutes “brighter”? What happens when your optimistic brand message doesn’t sound very optimistic to everyone who hears it? Because that’s where we’re at today.
Don’t Drop Your Optimistic Message Into Society’s Divide
U.S. culture is divided, and consumers know it. In fact, 80% of consumers believe the country is more politically divided today than it was even two years ago. What’s worse, only 20% of consumers believe the divide will improve at all within the next year. And the divide isn’t just between Conservatives and Liberals or limited to headline-grabbing issues such as gun control and climate change. Americans are fiercely divided on issues ranging from the state of America’s education system to income inequality to race relations. And unfortunately, these divisions and their perceived intractability have consumers of all types and political leanings feeling more pessimistic and cynical about society as a whole.
Most consumers (56%) believe that today’s brands have gotten more political. But, given the negative perceptions that consumers’ have toward the political and cultural polarization, taking a stand that could be perceived as political might not be the best fit for every brand, particularly those with a more optimistic voice. Before taking your brand into sociopolitical conversations, it’s important for marketing leaders to consider their brand values and positioning and evaluate how their brand’s relative optimistic stance sits against the backdrop of society’s polarizing tension.
Focus Positive Messaging on Consumers Themselves and Their Personal Lives
Our research shows that time and again, consumers will express pessimism and frustration about the state of broader society, while espousing hope for their personal lives. It would seem that consumers don’t see much to be positive about at the societal level these days, so instead they are looking closer to home and within themselves for optimism.
This means brands with values, identity and voice rooted in optimism should focus that positive messaging and imagery on a smaller circle of influence surrounding consumers, e.g., their home, their close community, their family and themselves.
Empower Consumers to Take More Control in Their Personal Lives
Consumers feel as though things are getting worse and that they are powerless to stop it. So, what’s behind the pessimism (at least in part) is a lack of control. However, while consumers feel that they’re increasingly powerless to change what’s happening at the societal level, they feel more in control of their personal lives. And we see this come to life in what people say they’ll put their energy toward in the coming year. Lori, an Asian-American Millennial from suburban Minnesota, said, “I will focus on doing small things that make me happy. Decorating my kids’ rooms and doing fun things with them.” Jeri, a Caucasian Millennial from suburban California, said, “I’ll focus on the things I can control, on my family and ensuring we are doing our best.”
Consumers are shrinking their sphere of influence because that’s where they feel a sense of control and hope. Brands with a positive voice need to think smaller, as well, and build optimism and trust by empowering their customers. It’s the best way to grow and maintain loyalty in these divided times.
For more, check out “Reframe Optimism to Connect With Consumers in Pessimistic Times” (subscription required).