Hew the Middle if You Are A Business

This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures

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The other day, Gillette released a new ad campaign.  Instead of advertising razors or shaving cream, it advertised social justice. Gillette got a pat on the back from 50% of the country.   The other 50% are going to switch brands.  There are options so why should your dollars go to support a brand that doesn’t support your position?

Starbucks, Camping World, ESPN, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Hollywood and other companies all ran into trouble when they tried to inject political statements into their brands.  You might say that the brand managers were simply lazy and it was their “jump the shark moment”.  However, I think that the brand managers were true believers in the cause they support and every move they make goes to supporting that cause.  They have no problem preaching from the mountaintop.

The lesson for startups or any business for that matter should be “never be political”. in this day and age where both sides are polar opposites.  We have a cold civil war in the US right now and those that don’t see it are just lying to themselves.

Talk about your brand in ways that you might describe another human being.  Your brand is not a cause.

Case and point.  Depending on which side of the divide you sit on, you probably heard about an incident in Washington DC between some high school kids and an American Indian who was a Vietnam vet.  There are two versions of the story being played out in social media.  Which one is true?  A lot depends on your predisposed confirmation bias.

The brand that decides to riff off that story to make a point one way or the other will lose customers.

This isn’t just a US phenomena.  It’s global.  One of the things that the internet has done for mankind is given them the ability to grab information and discern for themselves.  It’s enabled a lot of individualism.  That smacks up hard and doesn’t work with centrally planned bureaucracy.

VC Andy Weismann makes a good point in his most recent blog which I am quoting below.

In Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Public, he makes the provocative point that we are in a period of crisis resulting from the switchover from an “industrial” world to an “information” world. In that industrial world, trusted institutions mediated the flow of information to people and thus created coherent visions of society. In the information era, people have direct access to information themselves and thus have seen that these institutions are fallible (maybe even corrupt). The result – a crisis of authority. 

If you are a business, the best thing you can do today is just figure out exactly what your customers want and give it to them. Delight them.  Make them happy.  Don’t lecture them or tell them how they should feel.  Don’t be “authority”.