The election is over. Controversy and counting continue. Covid-19 rages. The economy sputters. Racial injustice persists. Americans are exhausted.

Biden stands at +/- 77 million popular votes and Trump at +/- 72 million. More votes were cast in 2020 than any time in U.S. history. More eligible people voted (67% est.) than since 1900 — 120 years!

Pundits will argue both sides: historic engagement is good while divisions signal rough waters ahead.

This is not a political post. This is an acknowledgement that in a divided country, the challenge for brands that go too far, not far enough or not at all to find common ground with an audience has never been greater.

Time for professional communicators to earn their pay.

In a November 11, 2020 Wall Street Journal article titled, “Marketers Navigate a Tricky Moment Selling to a Divided America,” beverage company Pernod Ricard’s CEO was quoted as saying, “Unity is going to be king. So we cannot be tone-deaf. We have to be thinking about all points of view.”

CMOs and CCOs need to think about what their brand stands for or, more importantly, where their brand’s consumers stand. They could be vivid red, bright blue or decidedly purple. Knowing is what matters.

I offer these five tips for today’s CMOs and CCOs:

  • Now, more than ever, engage: It has never been more important for a brand to engage. Living in a world that so easily moves to contention and conflict requires openness, candor, honesty and transparency to maintain that hard-earned relationship.
  • Be stridently honest: Brands need to be stridently honest, especially if it means apologizing for a well-intended but off-the-mark past comment or program. Meet it head-on. Don’t let it simmer. It will not just go away. Today’s marketer must accept that regardless of how thoughtful and careful they are, someone could be offended.
  • Make decisions better: Your decision-making and, thus your decisions, will be better if you commit yourself to seek dissenting opinions, welcome contrary views, be open to criticism and, when you’re ready to communicate, engage honestly and fully. Avoid “paralysis by analysis,” but know that making quick decisions today is more treacherous than ever.
  • Do what you say: Accountability for doing what you say has never been stronger and more important. One-off statements with no follow-through just won’t cut it. Today’s consumers and employees expect action. In many cases, they will demand it.
  • Establish boundaries: Be intentional about what is OK and what is not for your brand. Think it through in advance. Seek outside opinions to inform decisions. Communicate boundaries broadly so that from your outside agency to your internal social media managers, people know there’s a red line to not be crossed.

I believe the level of citizen engagement we witnessed in 2020 is good news for our country. Whether it is good news for your brand and all those relationships you worked so hard to develop, maintain and strengthen will depend on how deliberate and intentional you are when communicating.