The divisive nature of our current society has undoubtedly permeated nearly every aspect of today’s society. Whether it is within personal familial relations, or the larger corporate climate, ethical and philosophical polarization seems to be a prevalent force in our daily lives. According to a study done by Pew Research Center, an overwhelming percentage of American citizens believe that those who possess opposing views to their own are dangerous and a general threat to the health of the nation at large. Consequently, distrust of ‘the other side’ has increased significantly.
It appears almost inevitable that this polarization would then spill over into our professional lives and thus determine the overarching marketing strategy used to achieve our companies’ triple bottom lines. But is this breach truly unavoidable, or is there a conscious choice by business executives to allow this mindset to affect their decision-making? And if it is a choice, should brands play into the divisive societal digression, or rather attempt to unite consumers on a common ground?
On the one hand, playing into the otherism that appears so common today could work to differentiate you from your competitors. If you base your marketing campaign on a strategy of us versus them, you could certainly gain a following of those individuals who strongly hold the same beliefs. However, in the process, you will undoubtedly isolate an entire population that possesses conflicting views as consumers want to feel that their spending supports companies that reflect their moral compasses.
Take Starbucks, for example.
In January of 2017, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz openly opposed President Trump’s anti-immigration policies, announcing support for DACA and the commitment to hire 10,000 refugees over five years. While many liberals praised the company for its bold stance and expressed a stronger inclination to purchase Starbucks products, Trump supporters were turned off and some even boycotted the coffee giant. Nevertheless, Starbucks sales have continued to rise amid the controversial climate. Whether this reflects the majority’s agreement with the statements made by Schultz, only time will tell.
Further, when companies consider their marketing campaigns, they are left facing several daunting questions. Should for-profit corporations ever embrace the dangers of the political realm, or should they simply stay Switzerland? Does taking a stance ultimately benefit a company’s triple bottom line, or does it actually deplete sales? And lastly, are these powerful organizations morally obliged to stand for what they perceive to be right? While the answers to these inquiries are by no means black and white, marketing professionals can help companies weigh their priorities and predict the outcomes of these arduous decisions. If you plan to tread these turbulent waters, you better have an expert by your side.
Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.