The idea that companies should take a leading role in solving key societal and cultural issues has taken root in marketing leadership. Data from research and advisory firm Gartner found that 95 percent of chief marketing officers agree that their companies should emphasize finding solutions and take concrete steps to demonstrate a firm commitment to societal change.

“Chief marketing officers play a unique role in helping their organizations understand and respond to societal, cultural and political trends,” says Jay Wilson, Gartner’s vice president analyst. “As a result, marketing has taken on the responsibility of using the brand’s platform to build awareness of societal issues and communicate support for movements. However, there is some misalignment of consumer expectations of brands and the actions they report having taken.”

Gartner found that 44 percent of consumers report that their highest expectations of companies is for them to ensure their own policies and practices align with a cause, but only 37 percent of CMOs report taking that action. Twenty-four percent of consumers say one of brands’ top two priorities should be donating money to cause, yet 46 percent of CMOs report donations as a top action taken.

“If part of a brand’s motivation for taking action on social issues is to align with what consumers want from brands, CMOs may need to review their priorities,” says Augie Ray, Gartner’s vice president analyst. “Taking any action comes with risk in an increasingly polarized society. However, such risks are typically offset by having furthered or fulfilled the brand’s purpose.”

To successfully lead in solving key societal and cultural issues, Gartner recommends that CMOs spearhead efforts to ensure company policies and practices reflect the ideals of target consumers, especially as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. They should also take a leadership role and implement a process for monitoring and engaging with societal issues. An organizational decision criteria is needed to ensure consistent, defensible decision making. CMOs need to understand the benefits and risks of taking a stand on issues, and have a solid grasp of brand values and a crisis management plan before taking a stand on societal or political issues.