As a business owner, you have spent time and resources on launching your business. Ensuring the success of your business is no small feat and requires strategy and forethought. The beginning of a business is wrought with many decisions: logo, colors, fonts, policies for business, building a customer base, reaching a target market, and the list goes on.
Many people will start and build a business based on their passion and what will bring them joy and fulfillment and that can lead to a slippery slope of mixing your passion for your beliefs with your business. The focus of today's article is to look at the impacts that can result when mixing business with politics.
The topic of politics is one of the most polarizing topics out there. So much so that etiquette books will tell you it is in poor taste to discuss politics around a dinner table and to keep politics out of your professional life. The polarizing part of politics is rooted in the two-party us against them mentality that is fueled by smear campaigns and ramps up especially heavily as elections draw closer. Actions and things said that come from a business is analyzed for opinions on hot topic issues or political leanings that can be used to support or oppose the business. Customers and clients with overly active social media accounts can cause divisiveness between other clients and customers that will lead to loss of business and sales.
Businesses today work and build differently than in the past. Opinions were kept close to the vest when the topic of politics was brought up. However, businesses today explode and grow based on their platforms which are often openly shared online across many platforms such as social media. Just as quickly as social media can help a business triple or quadruple its success, it can just as quickly remove that success by way of the popular term” cancel culture” It's not just the owners that influence a business through social media. Employees and former employees all have a very public voice through their social media and no longer are businesses able to control the lens through which they are viewed.
In a digital world where your online reputation is what can make or break a business, a bad post or review is a hard road to travel back from. Businesses hoping to have continued success must truly understand the impact of this as they consider whether to mix their business with their personal political beliefs. A business with the strongest business plan and the soundest strategy to grow and scale its operation can level itself if it lets personal emotions tied to political stances drive its decisions for the business.
Political beliefs can align with a business and lead to some measures of success
Some businesses have built financial success and a public following by aligning their business with a particular issue or political affiliation. With that approach to business, one must ensure that they can stay afloat and successful with only business coming from those that agree and side with their viewpoints.
Mike Lindell, the founder, and CEO of MyPillow publically supported one politician and party affiliation over another. He even offered special purchase discounts for customers that keyed in the promo code, “FightFor(politician)” or “QAnon.” While his following and sales increased with those that shared the same viewpoints, many stepped away and refused to support his business. Major corporations and retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond removed his product from their shelves. Lindell himself admitted to seeing a backlash against his company following the events on January 6th.
Political stances can cause significant loss of income
Some businesses and individuals felt the financial impacts of the public sharing unpopular stances among their supporters. While adamant in their beliefs and stances the lasting impact on the bottom line is not easy to come back from.
Colin Kaepernick is a form NFL quarterback who famously lost his job for taking a knee during the national Anthem to bring awareness to racial inequality and police brutality against minorities. Although not a business owner, he was unto himself a brand and his political stance cost him countless millions.
It is tempting for entrepreneurs to want to publicly support their political viewpoints using their businesses as platforms. Some major considerations should come into play before you take this leap. The biggest impact could be a decrease in customer base that will equate to a loss in revenue and ultimately hurt the bottom line for your business.
Let’s look at a basic simple example of how this can play out. With the two political parties in the United States, the presidential election in most instances comes down to a choice between 2 candidates. If as a business you openly promote one candidate over the other, you will likely lose the support of half of your customer base. Some businesses might be able to sustain a loss of 50 % of their customers, but consider that this example can be deeper. Not all customers spend equally. If one of those bases that you alienate by openly voicing political support makes up 80% of your revenue and profit, then the loss of those customers could be enough to end your business and cause you to close the doors.
Business owners must keep their customers at the front of their strategies for growing business now and in the future. Those that do this are not on the verge of being “woke” instead they are strategic and pragmatic with their success. Consider Nike. While Colin Kaepernick, found himself on the losing end for his political stance, Nike chose to have him in an ad campaign with the slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means losing everything. Just Do It.” There was a news frenzy that showed people calling for everyone to boycott Nike and burn their shoes. Nike was prepared and aware that could happen. However, they knew their customer base. Nike understood the opportunity to become more aligned with the public opinion of its customer base. Nike’s customers for the most part supported Kaepernick’s stance and would continue to buy Nike shoes.
Removing politics from your approach to business may feel like a security blanket that can insulate you from political fallout. However, it should be noted that in today’s business environment relying entirely on this approach one can find that neutrality can have just as much of a damaging impact as speaking out loudly in support of or against certain divisive topics. The business world today is very different than the business world two decades ago. It is now much harder for businesses to hide in the back rows and remain neutral when it comes to avoiding political stances. In today's business world, it is nearly expected that a business will speak openly for or against the issues that cause such division.
Delta Airlines, after nearly a century in business, found cast into the public eye for a political hot topic decision. Following the Parkland school shooting in Florida, many companies with even the slightest affiliation with the National Rifle Association (NRA) felt the pressure to step away from the association. Delta did away with a discount program for NRA members. Interestingly enough the discount had only been claimed at the time by 13 NRA members. Even when trying to remain neutral businesses can be pulled and forced to take a stance.
As customer bases change, political topics grow in severity, and businesses have to evolve, the advice from all the experts can be split. Stay out of it. There are lasting impacts that can permanently hurt a business if business and politics are not approached for the right reasons. Don’t leave your hand in the sand. According to Ronnie Chatterji, a business professor at Duke University, “When rules, laws, regulations, practices, and norms are disrupted there is a risk to businesses. This risk may force them to act.” The time to act and openly speak out happens when your business is facing negative impacts whether it is your stakeholders or customers and clients in harm's way.
If you find yourself at a juxtaposition and poised to publicly mix your political stance and switch your business you must have a plan moving forward and fully understand the calculated risks you may be taking with the success of your business. For some businesses, the bottom line plays a role but it isn't the heart of their mission or vision. There will be some success from the support but the dollars and bottom line aren't the driving forces in defining their success.
Moving forward as you prepare to take that public stand:
Be well-versed and research before you share
Avoid triggers that will cause you to knee jerk reaction
Anything on social media is permanent and can come back
There will never be 100% agreeance from your counter side
Online is not the best place to play out differing opinions on your stance
Geography matters. Rural areas tend to be more conservative and Urban more progressive
Supporting a political party as a whole will lump you into many positions that may not fully align with your values and mission. Consider your position on an issue over party affiliation
Demographics do make a difference. Age, Education, Gender, Religion, and Ethnic background will bring support or cause a disconnect from your customer base. Be ready to accept that.
Mid-terms have passed but the heated political tensions are far from over. Party politicians preparing for the presidential election will push to keep their hot topic issues on the lips and ears of their constituents. Their constituents will also be your customers. Remember how you share your views will reflect on your reputation. What you choose to say or avoid getting involved in will send a message to your customer base and they in turn will support or not support your business. Remember to approach your sharing of stances much as you did with launching your business: will well planned and mapped strategies. If you find yourself struggling to align personal values with the mission and value of your business, reach out to our team at K. Cradley & Company for a one-on-one strategy session to help you.