Increasingly, consumers are putting their money where their values are. This insistence that brands embody their customers’ values has created upheaval in the business world where we’ve long been taught to keep our opinions to ourselves, but also I think this creates an opportunity for us. Three new surveys out recently say the public is demanding that companies exemplify their values and show loyalty to them when they do. Companies that can figure out which values the public is seeking are not only more likely to build loyalty among consumers but also among employees.

There’s no question that consumers are increasingly comfortable with companies engaging in current issues than before. The old way of doing things was to keep your head down and to wait for things to blow over. This is no more. A recent poll found that 77 percent of Americans agree CEOs need to speak out on defense of their company’s values.

One survey found that while almost half of Americans in 2018 (increasing from 38 percent in 2017) were more likely to buy from company when its CEO speaks out about a hot issue they agree with. However, in the same survey, 35 percent of participants said they have boycotted a company in 2018 whose CEO took a public stand, which increased from 28 percent last year. Clearly, knowing which battles to pick is key.

Consumers want companies spending political capital towards treating their employees better. The survey mentioned above found the broad consensus in favor of CEOs speaking out for job and skills training, for equal pay and against sexual harassment. The topics people least wanted business leaders’ opinions on were gun control, nationalism, and abortion.
The focus on how a company treats its employees is even more pronounced among millennials, according to a Morning Consult poll. When given a list of potential actions a company could do to win its employees’ hearts and minds, including donating a share of profits to charity, manufacturing the product domestically, and promoting women in senior roles, millennials overwhelmingly picked compensating employees properly and having a reputation for a positive workplace environment.

Don’t get me wrong: Values-based business leadership is on the rise, however being good at your business is still the best way to do business. Reliability, durability, and good customer service are easily the top contributing factors to brand loyalty for millennials. Following those, ethical and moral standards of the company accounted for 42 percent, ranking ahead of offering a customer rewards programs (30 percent) and having the lowest price (24 percent).

Taking care of your talent isn’t just window dressing. The most important ingredient in any business, no matter whether you’re running a company of 20 or a company similar to ours of 2,000, is the talent. What I see are companies really making an investment in showing customers what their values are, and for us, that means investing in our talent. In doing so, we’re not only putting out a better product, we’re showing the world who we are.

With so much at stake, you would think companies would aggressively protect their brands. We’ve all seen one bad news story permanently damage a company’s reputation because of a comment a CEO made or doing the wrong thing. It seems to happen every month, if not more often.

If you think the business world is reacting to this new world by keeping a keen eye on the public and having a plan for when things go haywire, for the most part, you’d be wrong. While a PRWeek poll of senior-level communications leaders for PR agencies and brands found that while almost everyone agreed that a big part of their company’s value was based on reputation, more than three-quarters of the companies did not have any real-time sense of what consumers think about their brand. In a world in which public opinion can blow you out of the sky, these companies are flying blind.

The public is questioning everything these days, including the values of the businesses they buy from and work for. That is why it’s more important than ever not only to keep a seat at the table for public opinion, but to have a clear sense of who you are and what you stand for. Unless you stand for taking great care of your talent, low prices and loyalty cards probably aren’t going to save you.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.