Conventional wisdom would lead most businessmen to believe that they should stay out of the realm of politics when it comes to their brand. In most cases, politics is kept out of the workplace, the focus being primarily on the productivity of the team to accomplish the task that the company requires of them in a professional manner.
This is the safe path; however, any marketer skilled, or at least highly knowledgeable, in their craft knows that consumers make purchasing decisions primarily based off of their emotions, not their rational logic. In neuromarketing, it’s referred to as the consumer’s first system of neurological processing, derived from their reptilian brain, as it would pertain to the initial animalistic and subconscious feelings of tribal loyalty for the sake of survival.
…and, especially in this generation, there are few things more emotionally motivating and binding than politics.
When Brands Take A Side
When companies take political stands, rather than staying neutral, they open themselves up to a myriad of different consequences, both positive and negative. They open themselves up to occurrence such as (but not limited to) certain employees quitting, and losses of segments of their customer base, and widespread public criticism. ut that’s not always a bad thing in the long-term view of their brand development, establishing themselves as iconically memorable to their consumer-tribe, which definitely influences whether or not someone will buy from them continually over time, or not.
But that’s not always necessarily a bad thing in the long-term strategy of their brand development; it’s wonderful for establishing themselves as iconically memorable to their consumer-tribe, which definitely influences whether or not someone will buy from them continually over time, or not.
The ultimate goal of any brand is to establish a long-lasting personal connection with their target audience that earns, increases, and keeps their loyalty. Politics both unites and divides tribes of people, and this can be used to acquire a steep advantage with the right leverage and publicity.
Take, for instance, how Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s line of products from their brand. If there’s no such thing as bad press, then such a risky move kept that company in the spotlight for far longer than your average clothing store, which had increased their mindshare in the mainstream public far more than it had ever been. Multiple press releases have been released about the controversy, and in response, yes, they had undoubtedly lost a segment of Trump supporters…
…but they’ve also gained plenty of positive attention, loyalty, and celebrity endorsement in exchange, as multiple celebrities followed people like Chelsea Handler in buying exclusively from Nordstrom, and dropping thousands of dollars to do so.
In essence, Nordstrom taking a political side offended a segment of its audience, but solidified the loyalty of another in such a way that now it became a political statement to buy from Nordstrom. Their publicity stunt, even if it wasn’t meant to be a publicity stunt, evolved the act of buying from Nordstrom from just a matter of fashion, to being, in itself, a medium for the millions of Trump-haters to vent their frustration and practice a form of civil disobedience.
And now, should the brand stay consistent with their beliefs, think of all of the return customers that’ll buy from them, just to exercise their desire to rebel, even if it’s not even necessarily the clothes themselves that people care about. Think about all of the user-generated content that will boost the brand’s notoriety on the Internet as more and more people show off how they bought from the store, sharing pictures to express their rebellion in an effort to get likes on social media?
Once Your Brand Makes A Stand, Stick With It
This doesn’t mean that every brand in the world should become politically activistic; whether or not a company should or shouldn’t is at the sole discretion of their executive leadership, because it absolutely comes with risks.
Any given brand should be very careful about any political decisions they make, in almost the same analogical way that would pertain to any king ruling any kingdom. If a company could be thought of as a kingdom, then it’s employees would be the army, and the consumers that it wins over would be the market share that the brand would conquer as it expands its territory, while the CEO would be the king.
Kings have risen and fallen throughout history because of the political decisions they’ve made, and it only takes one wrong one to irreparably ruin a brand’s reputation forever.
If Nordstrom wanted to win back the segment of its customer-base that it lost as a consequence to this stunt, then they wouldn’t be able to do so without losing a great amount of face by apologizing to Ivanka (and the rest of the Trump administration), before reinstating her line.
But think of the backlash that would erupt from the other audience that they had previously won over because of the controversy? It would be like a smack in the face to the celebrities who are now spending exorbitant amounts of dollars on things they don’t need simply to make a political statement. Nordstrom would lose its celebrity backing, and all of the anti-Trump partisans (which amount to millions of people) would lose respect for the brand, along with the “why” to buy from them: it would no longer be an act of rebellion to do so, removing the intrinsic incentive to continue buying from them.
If Nordstrom were to go back now, they would do more harm to themselves, than good. In order to do so with the minimal amount of public backlash, they would have to wait until the end of the Trump administration, or at least until the off-chance that Trump’s approval ratings from the mainstream public would surge, and then make a public display of a change of leadership, or some form of great storytelling needed to justify supporting Ivanka again.
…and even then, to go back would still come at a price, because the Internet is unforgiving.
It remembers all.
When determining your brand’s ideal target audience, in the development of your customer personas, the customer’s personal political beliefs can be leveraged to give customers a powerful “why” to remain loyal to you that differentiates you from your competitors. Doing so could (and does) help to determine that kind of advertising message a company should put out there, as well as unique copywriting for all its content and the brand’s theme that hits people in their system 1 of neurological processing, ironing in their associative memories what the brand stands for in a way that makes that brand iconic and unforgettable, such as what Harley Davidson has accomplished with the outlaw Jungian archetype, associated with rebellion and freedom.
This means that the concept doesn’t even have to pertain to the presidency of America; it can pertain to anything that groups of people have strong opinions about, such as Target’s stance on gender-equal bathrooms. Target stirred up so much controversy with the act; as a consequence, it both got itself in the news several times in a way that won the hearts of many leftists, while simultaneously estranging many far right-wing conservatives.
However, there is no limit to the amount of caution a company can, could, and should take when making moves like these, regardless of whether they be for or against any given political issue, because it could quite literally mean the end of one’s business if such an act would be calculated or executed incorrectly.
Politics can make or break you. It’s up to what the executive leadership of the company truly believes in, and whether or not they have the constitution of character to deal with the consequences of taking a side. A company should never just ride waves of what’s popular at the time, but stay true to its core belief system, not only because that’s what will win people over for the long-term, but because it has a moral and public responsibility to handle how its marketing strategy influences the minds of consumers all around the world, which genuinely has the power to change history.
Companies can be far more than merely companies, but catalysts for world change itself, even small brands. The size of the company isn’t really so relevant.
If political stances are planned and executed correctly, however, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll touch your target audience in a way that no other brand will be able to, earning their loyalty and support…permanently. Even if you don’t have better products and/or services than your competitors who take a different political stance on the same topic.
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