Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Politicization of Everything

We find ourselves today in a hyper-politicized environment that business leaders must recognize, understand and be prepared to address.  Increasingly a business’ brand, mission statement, identified purpose, marketing themes, suppliers and the executive team’s social media activities are all being scrutinized to reveal political positions to either support or oppose.  Whether intended or not, or true or not, claims made by pundits and popular social media influencers can quickly lead to market segmentation that may have a direct impact on a business.  

Prudent business leaders will think through these issues before they happen.  They will want to discuss the most likely trouble spots and identify the most likely scenarios and impacts.  The goal of these exercises is to create a playbook on how best to respond when it happens.  When it happens, the speed at which it can impact your business necessitates foresight and planning.

Earlier this year in Boise, Idaho, new owners of a pizza joint immediately faced a huge challenge as a result of the pandemic.  Not only did the pandemic shut down restaurant dining, but disagreements with the staff led to a walk-out, public protests and a social media campaign that politicized the disagreement.  No one wanted or expected these challenges.  No one was prepared and everyone suffered.

In another local Boise, Idaho, example, a beloved French bakery received threats as a result of asking customers to wear masks.  This was widely reported in the news and on social media and much of the community united in support.  The baker had no desire to be involved in politics, but politics found her.

Some businesses embrace selling to a subset of the market that closely identifies with a well understood political persona.  Other enterprises and brands, however, wishing to maximize their market size and potential, attempt an apolitical position.  

In the past marketing messages and positions could be closely controlled.  Today, in a world of “cancel culture” where just about everything can be politicized, it’s wise to prepare.  It is shocking how many objects and brands have already been politicized.  
  • Tire brands
  • Shower heads
  • Medical tests
  • Rice brands
  • Toilet flows
  • Masks
  • Church attendance
  • Sports brands
  • Hospital vacancy rates
  • Vegan food
  • Live wrestling
  • Fried chicken brands
  • College football
  • Mortality Rate Data
  • Pandemics
  • Pancake syrup brands
  • Disease names
  • Automobile brands
  • Craft and hobbies store brands
  • Hotel brands
  • Pizza joints
  • Definitions of fact
  • Social media platforms
  • Theology
  • Borders and Walls
  • Photos in front of church buildings
  • Vaccines
  • Sustainability 
  • Plasma treatments
  • Sneaker brands 
  • Home improvement store brands
  • Birth certificates
  • Medicines
  • Nutritional supplements
  • CDC 
  • News channel brands
  • FDA
  • University brands
  • Hawaiian shirts
  • Canned bean brands
  • Brutality
  • Historical monuments
  • Recreational equipment and clothing brand choices
  • Playing sports during a pandemic
  • US Postal Service
  • US Census
  • E-commerce sites 
  • Newspaper brands
  • Scientific methods and processes
  • Voting methods 
  • Opening Schools
The ubiquitous nature of social media and social media influencers has resulted in an environment whereby businesses are always just a tweet away from chaos.  Businesses must understand this reality and have a plan.

Are you willing to take political positions with your business?  Will supporting or opposing a particular politicized issue help or hinder your business?  Is your target market aligned with a political position?  Does it align with your organization’s?  How does your leadership team and employees feel about it?  Are they both in agreement?  Is it possible to remain apolitical on an issue?

I believe social media and social networks are now a permanent fixture in our society, as such, it appears this challenge will be here for the foreseeable future.  Choosing how to position your business in a politicized environment has now become both a reality and a priority.

Very funny video on Cancel Culture in 1238 AD.

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.