“Workers increasingly want a sense of purpose—and, through corporate responsibility programs, employers are helping them find it.”
by Jamie Peck – from “The Guardian” February 9, 2017
Ivanka Trump spent the election trying to pull off a delicate balancing act: campaigning for an authoritarian demagogue while simultaneously hawking sensible office clothes to women. Now, those contradictions have caught up with her: Nordstrom and others have dropped her toxic brand. Her father’s reaction, predictably, was: so unfair!
But it’s not.
Back in October, Fast Company reported that traffic to her site was up 275% from the previous year and online searches for her products were up 335% from April. Ivanka’s frequent appearances on the campaign trail might have been “controversial” in the fake America, but they were paying off at the bank, as clear a sign as any that the people were with her.
At the time, this seemed like cognitive dissonance, as Ivanka’s primary demographic of professional women favored Hillary Clinton over her father, albeit by slimmer margins in the end than some strategists expected, given his brazen misogyny. (White women with college degrees went for Clinton 51% to 44%, while non-white women with college degrees favored her 76% to 19%. )
Was the increased exposure afforded by Ivanka’s involvement in her dad’s campaign really worth alienating more than half of her potential customers? Why should Ivanka get a pass just because she has shiny hair and avoids all but a narrow range of topics? And was it really a good idea for someone who’d built her brand around an image of monied classiness to use her political screen time to shill her wares like some sort of blond, fascist Kardashian?
The other nude pump began to drop when a group of women disgusted by Trump Senior’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comments – a scandal in which Ivanka reprised her by-then stale role of character witness – started a grassroots boycott campaign called Grab Your Wallet targeted at the Ivanka Trump brand – the wares themselves, as well as the stores selling them. Would it work?
And then a funny thing happened: the boycott grew and persisted, until stores began dropping Ivanka’s wares from their shelves. As of this writing, at least seven retailers have dropped Ivanka’s goods, including Neiman Marcus, Gilt, Shoes.com and, most recently, Nordstrom, which insists they did not drop the brand due to negative press surrounding the boycott, but simply to poor sales, which makes me wonder if they know what a boycott is.
In any case, Nordstrom’s stock has already recovered and then some from the brief dip caused by President Trump’s outburst about the unfairness of it all, to the tune of +4%. “Yeah that was some next-level #grabyourwallet today, everyone,” tweeted boycott co-founder Shannon Coulter. “Good job!” A constantly updated list of boycott targets remains pinned to the top of her profile.
The Nordstrom victory is but one example of liberals staying angry and engaged on a level we have not seen in the recent past. Following the huge groundswell of people who protested for the first time at the Women’s March, folks are keeping the momentum going by weaving activism into the fabric of their everyday lives, showing up in waves for immigrants, women and LGBT people.
The Women’s March website itself is posting a new action every 10 days, and adherents are doing them by the millions. At least some of these people are sympathetic to more radical elements within the anti-Trump movement, and will hopefully pick up some good habits that can be deployed under Democrats and Republicans alike. Assuming these activities can be sustained and grown, we could finally see a resurgence of grassroots movements in the progressive mainstream, leading to a healthier political culture overall.
Of course, boycotts alone will not stop Trumpism. Effective resistance to authoritarianism requires more disruptive actions than not buying certain products, and it’s easy for more seasoned activists to scoff at those who think they can shop their way to a better world.
But if there’s anything the past few weeks have taught us, it’s that resistance must take as many forms as possible, and it’s possible to call attention to the ravages of neoliberalism while simultaneously allying with any and all takers against the immediate dangers posed by our impetuous orange president.
From “The Conversation” – February 5, 2017 11.56pm EST
President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim countries has put corporate executives in a bind. Almost from the moment he announced the ban, questions poured in about where those executives stood on the issue.
The media have highlighted a cluster of companies that have made public statements against the executive order. For example, Netflix called it “un-American,” while Ford Motor Company said: “We do not support this policy or any other that goes against our values as a company.”
But overlooked are the many more companies that tried to distance themselves from the debate. Chevron, Disney, Verizon, GM, Wells Fargo and others have all taken a wait-and-see approach. An illustrative example is Morgan Stanley, which expressed concern and said it is “closely monitoring developments.”
Such responses are no doubt based on the prevailing wisdom that companies need to stay out of politics. Most large corporations have diverse constituencies that draw from both sides of the political spectrum. As a result, executives fear that attracting the political spotlight by taking a stand on the executive order will alienate either the millions of customers who voted for Trump or the millions who voted against him.
My research suggests their fears are misplaced. And in fact, the opposite may be true: It may be more dangerous to remain silent than to take a political stand.
Consumers today form relationships with a company based not only on the quality of the products and services it sells but also on a set of expectations of how it should comport itself (see also here).
When companies violate these expectations by behaving inconsistently, consumers reconsider that relationship. Obviously, this can have a major impact on company performance if many customers experience a violation.
My colleagues and I at Clemson University and Drexel University have been testing this notion in a series of controlled experiments.
In one field experiment, for example, we exposed study participants to statements about a pharmacy chain moments before they entered one of its stores. Some read a statement in which the company described itself as guided by a set of values (what we call a “values orientation”), while others read that it tries to adapt to whatever market conditions warrant (a “results orientation”).
These statements established participants’ political expectations of the company. We predicted that for a values-oriented company, taking a stand would align with expectations but that abstaining would violate expectations.
Participants then read a short article reporting that the company had either just taken a stand on proposed gun control legislation (we randomized what side of the issue the company took) or had abstained from making a comment. After shopping, participants reported their in-store experience and whether or not they had bought anything that they hadn’t planned to purchase before entering the store. We used the unplanned purchase to indicate the impact of the political stand on the customer-company relationship.
In general, unplanned purchases remained consistent no matter how the company reacted to the political issue. That is, about 18 percent of participants made an unplanned purchase whether they read that the company had taken a position or not.
But when we accounted for expectations set by the company, the effects were stunning. For a values-oriented company, 24 percent of participants made an unplanned purchases when it took a stand, but that dropped to just 9 percent when it abstained – violating expectations. For a results-oriented company, the effect was reversed: Unplanned purchasing was 26 percent when it abstained and dropped to 13 percent when it took a stand (again, violating expectations).
Even after accounting for the personal view of the participant and whether his or her state voted Republican or Democratic in the 2016 election, purchasing behavior was significantly affected if the company went against prior expectations.
Costs of staying silent
Additional experiments reveal that consumers behave this way because they find it hypocritical for a company that claims to be “guided by core values” to then withhold its position on a political issue. The implication appears to be that the company is hiding something and therefore trying to deceive its customer base. Conversely, reinforcing expectations may forge trust and enhance relationships with customers.
For a real-world quasi experiment on the potential costs of staying silent, we need look no further than Lyft’s and Uber’s respective responses to President Trump’s executive order. Lyft reacted by publicly opposing the order and pledging US$1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union. Uber was more equivocal. In a Facebook post, CEO Travis Kalanick acknowledged concerns and said he would raise the issue “this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting.”
As part of a poll I administer periodically to gauge reactions to companies that take political stands, a group of leading scholars were asked to grade Lyft and Uber on their respective approaches. The panel was generally favorable toward Lyft, although conservative panelists questioned whether its actions would have a lasting impact on the political issue at hand.
However, Uber was criticized by scholars of all political persuasions for not confronting the issue. Panelists thought Uber was taking some leadership by reacting quickly, but its lackluster response was not consistent with its purported beliefs as a bold game-changer. It is little surprising, then, that the move motivated many customers to uninstall the Uber app from their phones. Uber received so many requests, in fact, that it had to implement a new automated process to handle all the deletions. The company later announced in an email to defecting customers that the executive order was “wrong” and “unjust.” Kalanick also resigned from President Trump’s business advisory council.
Feet to the fire
The danger of inaction – as Uber’s experience shows – is real. In remaining silent on important societal issues, executives may be harming performance more than they think.
It is no longer enough to engage government solely through private channels, although that will certainly be necessary as well. Consumers are willing to hold executives’ feet to the fire if they believe the executives are betraying corporate values.
This may be especially true for companies that forcefully advocated for free trade, access to a global talent pool, action on climate change and inclusivity for all orientations and religious backgrounds during Barack Obama’s tenure. My research suggests that both liberals and conservatives could view it as a breach of trust to abandon those beliefs by acquiescing to a swing of the political pendulum.
Though our current political environment is polarized and contentious, most people still find failures of sincerity more troubling than differences of opinion. As long as a company is not being deceptive by obfuscating its beliefs, consumers can be surprisingly tolerant of a company that holds an opposing view.
So to corporate executives: Your constituents are watching. They acknowledge that your company has a distinct set of values. They are asking for you to be forthright. And they want to know that you have the gumption to stand up for your stated values.
Good article in Washington Monthly this spring.
Unfortunately, it describes how St. Louis is a shell of its former self and proposes a theory as to why. We tend to agree with the thesis and hope that a Teddy Roosevelt trust busting era blooms in America very soon.
Many renga communications partners were “in town” during the region’s advertising boom in the 80s as referenced in the article. [It shows in some of our samples.]
Moreover, St. Louis had an abundance of what regional economic growth theorists such as Richard Florida, Edward Glaeser, and Enrico Moretti argue is the most important ingredient of success for post-industrial America: a large population of educated, professional, creative types who dream up the innovations that drive growth and profits (think software in Seattle and Silicon Valley, biotech in Boston, finance in New York and Charlotte). In 1980, 23 percent of adults living in the St. Louis area had completed four years of college or higher—double the national average and greater than that of economically “hot” cities like Dallas, Charlotte, and San Diego. Even more important, one out of every five residents worked in fields like finance, insurance, real estate, business, health, law, or medicine.
Indeed, St. Louis contained enough human capital to sustain one of the defining “creative class” industries: advertising. Though perhaps not quite as high-flying as their Mad Men counterparts, St. Louis firms rivaled the biggest New York, LA, and Chicago ad agencies in terms of revenue and creativity during the industry’s heyday from the 1970s to the 1980s.
We are not affiliated with ILSR, but like them, we are champions of local economies. We want to work for locally-owned businesses that create good jobs, healthy neighborhoods and keep dollars in their own communities. We want to work for innovative companies that solve the problems facing the planet in the 21st century. We want to work for startups and existing companies that create local wealth instead of extracting it from the communities in which they operate. The best of these brands are “Lower True Cost” businesses.
A process to discover if your brand possesses Lower True Cost traits (attributes), if they are important to your customers, and then how best to communicate this “marketable difference” to them!
A Lower True Cost movement has formed in which citizens are considering not just PRICE, but also the true costs of their purchases to themselves, their families and the rest of the world. If you’ve observed how Millennials have followed the Sanders campaign, then you shouldn’t be surprised that for Millennials shopping Lower True Cost parallels that political revolution. However, it’s not just 75 million Millennials, it’s also a lot of GenXers and Boomers too.
That’s why we’ve developed Lower True Cost Positioning. It’s a process to discover if your brand possesses Lower True Cost traits (attributes), if they are important to your customers, and then how best to communicate this “marketable difference” to them!
We support ILSR efforts. However, we’re not here to sell activist causes. We’re here to help clients sell their products and services. We don’t care what your politics are, but we do care about the health or our local communities the health of our region, the health of our nation and the health of our planet.
The way we choose to do business and the way we choose to buy and sell make a difference.
Take a look at this video:
Can marketing communications have a “higher purpose?” Perhaps. We believe audiences want something beyond hip design and clever copy. They expect — from the brand and its communications — something believable, and more important, something to believe in. We all do. And when we believe, we join up, we buy into, and maybe we buy. Our job is to help brands discover higher purpose, and then to help communicate the value they offer. We tell stories through the content we create. It’s always uniquely targeted and it breaks through the clutter.
Perhaps your brand has something meaningful to offer. Maybe your brand or enterprise has business traits that are “lower true cost” marketable differences, i.e., unique selling points that could position your brand as top-of-mind, leader-of-category, for citizens who are shopping for more than just price and convenience. Many customers — especially millennials — are starting to shop for products and services that have “lower true costs” to their health, to the environment and to society. And these days, what “higher purpose” can a brand possess than a positive impact on the planet and its people?
Interest and demand for “lower true cost” products and services is already strong and will only grow in the coming years. Does “lower true cost” matter to your customers? Have you considered the positioning possibilities? Are you ready? Find out. Take this “Quick Audit.”