Customer Experience And Politics: Do They Mix?

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In an article I wrote a few weeks ago I posited four imperatives that, I believe, are emerging from the pandemic.

One of those imperatives was experience which I then broke down into four dimensions: customer, employee, stakeholder and leader.

In three of the dimensions (customer, employee and stakeholder), I suggested that environmental and societal concerns were playing an increasingly important part in them.

Here’s some data cited in the recent KPMG Nunwood 2020 CEE research ‘Meet Your New Customer’ report that supports that idea:

  • 90% of customers are willing to pay more for ethical retailers. Source: KPMG Me, My Life, My Wallet 2020
  • 71% of customers say if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever. Source: Edelman Trust Index
  • Over a third feel it is more important that the brand’s values match their own – 52% for ages 18-34 Source: KPMG Nunwood.
  • 56% say the environmental and social practices of a company have an impact when choosing to buy from them. Source: KPMG Me, My Life, My Wallet 2020

The report goes on to suggest that many firms are now revisiting and redefining their purpose and practices in the context of their societal and environmental impact.

It then goes further and suggests that we are entering an “integrity economy”, where the ethics of an organization are becoming just as important as its products and services and a company’s environmental and social credentials are becoming an increasingly important factor in purchase decisions.

Now, when it comes to the environment, it is pretty clear that firms should be striving to achieve things like a sustainable and responsible use of resources, a significant reduction of or elimination of all waste and the overall achievement of a carbon-neutral state if not better.

However, on the social side, while we have seen many organizations strive for diversity, inclusion and equality, other data suggests that many customers are open to brands going further and are demanding that societal concerns also include political issues.

According to recent research from Adzooma, the costs and benefits of a brand becoming more political is complicated when you consider the impact of political statements or politically motivated actions on brand followers and reputation as well as the impact on a customers propensity to buy.

When it comes to followers if a brand makes a political statement Adzooma’s research shows that 27.5% of people say that they would be likely to follow that brand on social media compared to 42.2% saying they would be unlikely to follow the brand on social media.

Moreover, when it comes to reputation, 22.6% of people reported that if a brand made political statements, it would improve their opinion of the brand. In comparison, 37.1% of people said it would harm their perception of the brand.

Thus, making political statements could have a net negative impact on both a brand’s following and its reputation.

However, when we consider the impact of political statements on a customers propensity to buy, on the one hand, 63% of people said they are more likely to buy from a brand that speaks out about politics. In contrast, only 17.4% of people said that it would harm their purchasing decisions.

But, if a brand makes a political statement or takes a politically motivated stand on a particular issue and their customers disagree with them, then 67.5% of people state that they wouldn’t buy from them.

So, there’s the complication.

While becoming a more political brand could have a negative impact on both the brand’s social media following and overall reputation, it could also drive new customers and more sales. But, this will only happen if a brand’s customers agree with its stance.

Therein lies the risk behind becoming more of a political brand.

However, let’s consider the experience of other brands like Lush, Levi’s, Nike, Ben & Jerry’s, Jigsaw, Patagonia, Budweiser, Airbnb and Ryanair, for example, who have all taken political stands in the past and many of them continue to do. Their popularity may have taken a hit in some quarters but, overall, it doesn’t seem to have done them any economic harm, and they have, as a result, stood out among their customers and employees.

Therefore, before taking a political stand, brand and experience leaders need to ask themselves:

  1. What do they and their brand stand for?
  2. How well do they know both their customers and their employees and what matters to them?
  3. Finally, they should ask themselves whether their brand would benefit most from more followers and a better reputation, or would it be better served by customers that align with them and buy more from them?

Only then will they be equipped to gauge whether they should and how they can become a more political brand.

This post was originally published on Forbes.com.

Thanks to The Works Design Communications for the image.

8 COMMENTS

  1. It’s important now than ever for brands to understand their audiences, in addition to sales, and like what you say in the article, people want to feel good about the company they are buying from because they see it as a sign of their own support.

    Just like in real politics though many of these CEOs aren’t going to take a stance if it hurts their reputation/brand, and you still for the most part only go toward your core base, not extend it. That’s why they’ll be heavily testing any message they put out their before they decide to “take a stand”.

  2. Hi Adrian.

    It’s a tricky and complex topic, and traditionally we’ve always believed it’s best to avoid politics, religion, sex and similar. Intellectually we all say that we value people and companies that have an opinion – free speech and all that – but as Colin Shaw points out, customers are not rational – and they often even lie to themselves! The statistics you quote point in the direction of avoiding political opinions because they do mostly backfire. But…

    I’m not qualified to discuss what’s happening in the US or Europe (including the UK,) but, as a South African that lived through the apartheid years and the subsequent transformation under Mandela, I wonder what would have happened if a few brave companies had NOT challenged the old government.

    It certainly was dangerous to speak out, and the Nationalist Party before FW de Klerk ensured that businesses would have to deal with serious economic consequences if they were seen as “traitors.” When something occurs that is so patently evil, ( some recent examples include Putin allegedly poisoning opposition leader Skripal, or in New Zealand, a young man shooting dozens of Muslims at random, or, as in France, the movement around free speech and Charlie Hebdo,) doesn’t business have a responsibility to speak out?

    I remember what one wise old lawyer said in a lecture that I attended many years ago, and that has stuck in my mind: he said that in all societies, politics and the law always lag behind society in general in terms of beliefs and values.

    I’d love to hear what others think.

  3. Leaving in south Africa a very diverse country, you need to stick both boxes. Political environment, agenda, regulation etc impact your clients experience in many ways: from how you advertise your products on Social media pace to the clients responding will also be determined by the politics u are in. E.g Dischem advert and how Clicks SA responded. Therefore politics in SA is well understood. So when positioning your brand and the experience of your clients… all stakeholders play a vital role. Don’t ignore them

  4. Thank you all for your comments. It’s an interesting and complex subject and I enjoyed writing the article and exploring the issue a little.

    @Michael and @Gregory You are right politics is a minefield and most CEOs will avoid doing anything that could be seen as political to avoid any reputational/brand damage. Many, if not most, will err on the side of caution.

    That being said @Aki and @Khwathelani offer really interesting perspectives on how business and brand decisions have played and continue to play a part in South African life.

    It seems the answer will always be context, brand and CEO specific.

  5. The points that have been raised here are complex and interesting to me. Although the organization I work for, a U.S. nonprofit, cannot align with politics on either side, we do have a keen sense of social justice and work to promote that around the globe. Perhaps there are rights, issues, and causes which transcend politics and can be expressed in a way that all sides can see as beneficial.

  6. Hi Kate, thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. Identifying and picking issues and causes that transcend partisan politics is a great suggestion for managing and navigating the complexity. Thank you.

  7. Thought provoking topic. I think it is clearly easy for some brands whose brand is intertwined with a political stance (e.g., Ben and Jerry’s) and can be vert challenging for brands serving basically the entire planet (e.g., Walmart, Amazon, etc). An organization’s culture is largely set by the founders…or founder. They pick who they hire early own and decide what the brand will represent. I think many times this not even intentional, but a reflection the founder/s own personality and values. So much of an organization’s culture is transmitted and resonates through its employees and customers and shows up as brands. A conservative culture will never result in a maverick brand..if they try it will quickly be identified as unauthentic. Therefore the question of whether to wade into politics many times is not a question at all…it just flows naturally (some sometimes unintentionally!) from what the brand is naturally. In that, IMO, flows from its culture. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

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