For years, business in America has been cautiously apolitical. We build brands to appeal to people who love the outdoors, to fashionistas, to shoppers on a budget – never expecting any of those brands to become a political stand. That’s why working in marketing is so disorienting right now. The ground is shifting beneath our feet.
Today, brand management has more in common with a war room than a corporate office. We’re seeing brands forced to pick a side. We’ve seen Budweiser defend the idea of immigration in a Super Bowl spot. We’ve seen Nordstrom drop a line of clothing because of its association with a daughter-in-chief. We’ve watched as Starbucks pledges to hire 10,000 refugees, and we see more examples of politics affecting brand every day.
It feels like marketing is coalescing around “resistance” brands who stand in defiance of current politics, and “cooperator” brands who do not. For some companies, angering “cooperator” customers isn’t a big deal. For some, it’s half of their business.
At Williams Helde, we believe brands should be true to themselves. If that means taking a stand, then by all means, take a stand. But if that means trying not to anger any of your customers, then you must be very careful in how you craft your communications. Here are three things to keep in mind.
Be Vigilant. Social media makes it too easy for a small misunderstanding in customer service to become a hashtag and rallying cry for a highly politicized customer base. For example, Uber intended their dropping of “surge pricing” in New York to help their customers, never thinking how they affected striking cab drivers, and were taken aback by the #deleteUber hashtag. Brands should monitor all channels consistently to make sure those misunderstandings are addressed before they spiral out of control.
Have a Plan. As noted above, brands never expected their love of the outdoors to become a political stand. But as policies become more controversial, positions that once seemed benign could suddenly become a battleground. Make sure your marketing department has a response to possible flashpoint issues like immigration, education, the environment, and more. You never know when your brand will be accidentally pulled into a controversy.
Communicate Clearly. Your brand is a collection of experiences, and the bulk of those experiences happen when your customers interact with your employees. If those employees don’t know your corporate position on an issue, you increase your chances of miscommunication or misstep. For example, if you are a retailer and one of the brands you sell makes a “resistance” or a “cooperator” statement, your retail brand is affected. Williams Helde has developed expertise in making brand decisions resonate throughout corporate culture, and we know how to let your employees understand how and why decisions are made. We can help you develop a plan to protect your brand from backlash.
It’s getting weird out there, people. We have to stick together. Williams Helde is helping brands like yours figure out how to navigate uncharted political waters. If you need to talk a little strategy to keep your brand off the rocks, please drop us a line.