The new political administration in the U.S has been in place for a month or so but has already put some brands in a tough spot in taking positions on political issues like immigration.
Its hard to say whether its a good or bad thing but either way companies are having to become political— which is pushing marketers — who’s general standard philosophy has been to avoid controversy at all costs. Social media has changed that a bit, and some brands that have appeared to embrace the new administration openly like New Balance and L.L. Bean, who then also suffered swift beatdowns in social media.
Last week the new administration made proposals that restrict immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, suspending all refugee admission for 120 days and blocking Syrian refugees indefinitely. Some of the top tech company chiefs have openly blasted the order on behalf of employees from those countries. (A federal judge stayed the order on Saturday, which temporarily halted the detaining of immigrants at U.S. airports.)
Why Trust Matters
No company is closer to this issue than Dynamic Signal, as they have built a software platform that lets large businesses (customers include GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, Edelman, Capital One, Salesforce, Deloitte, Humana, Hitachi Data Systems) send out message-based communications to employees by delivering them as apps to the handheld computer that everyone has in their pockets. Not everyone in a large enterprise will be sitting at a desk with a computer, but everyone now has a smartphone. Dynamic Signal understands this importance and has even recently put in new leadership to help lead the evolution of understanding conversations with real-time communications technology to assist communicating with others consistently and quickly.
Well respected public relations firm, Edelman recently updated their study on the Edelman Trust Barometer, sampling of more than 33,000 respondents and found the “largest drop ever” in American trust of businesses. CEO credibility dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37 percent, falling in every country studied. Edelman trust barometer: employees express a low level of confidence in their leaders.
Establishing strong communications can fortify a brand before ever being faced with a crisis. Today’s employees are typically always-on communicators, comfortable with more frequent communication while multi-tasking across many platforms. But how this all comes to play it up in air, especially with #DayWithoutImmigrants is set for tomorrow (February 17, 2017) so it will be interesting to see what gets projected on social media from either side.
Immigration: Who’s In and Who’s Not
The tech industry has been unusually outspoken about this issue while most of the corporate world -- global conglomerates like General Mills, McDonald’s and Walmart who no doubt have employees from those countries too -- have remained silent. Recode’s Kara Swisher though, along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Tesla CEO Elon Musk have criticized the move and Google, Lyft have issued public statements condemning the new changes and wall between Mexico and the U.S.
Notable proponents include Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who noted in a memo to staff that the move would “impact many innocent people” and promised to bring it up with Trump during a meeting this week. Palantir, the secretive Silicon Valley tech firm run by Trump supporter Peter Thiel, declined to comment on the issue.
In Uber’s case, the company’s initial mishandling of the issue prompted a wave of support for longtime rival Lyft and the spread of the hashtag #DeleteUber.
New Political Territory for Brands
Companies are learning how and if they should voice their opinion on issues that could conceivably bar some of their employees from living and working in the U.S. The difference is that this is an issue that is only reflective of the employee’s private lives but of their ability to function as employees. For some, like Nadella, who was born in India, this is also personal.
Back to consumer distrust, at one time a company CEO was a distant presence, but today’s enterprise communications technology platforms like Dynamic Signal humanize their leaders by offering a means to instantly convey their thoughts to the rank-and-file. At a time when current events are forcing leaders to take stands on issues, such platforms are invaluable for building cohesion among employees who may be wondering where their company stands on hot-button issues.
Taking such stands has become increasingly common and expected. As we have seen, major brands like Mondelez, Maytag and Gap have supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s support for same-sex marriage. Many brands have also taken a position on climate change. Budweiser even produced an immigrant related video commercial for the Super Bowl
To Millennials, social media is everything for leadership and while this group did not vote in large numbers for the current administration, brands have a choice: Support a President who many of its youngest and most desirable customers despise or take a position on Millennial-friendly issues and risk the wrath of our Twitter-happy POTUS. Who will corporate America embrace? We’re only a month in, but if Trump continues this hard line, we’ll start seeing more brands follow suit on social media. Even Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has jumped into the fray, announcing that the chain will hire 10,000 refugees. Not everyone loved the move and that led to talk of another proposed boycott, it seems right now brands simply cannot win without the right intel.
Three years ago Coca-Cola the brand ran a Super Bowl ad celebrating immigrants before it was “cool.” Back then, Coke rushed in to defend the ad when some consumers objected, stating “America is beautiful and Coca-Cola is for everyone.” Now, as Mexico is calling for a boycott of Coke for embracing The Wall, we’ll have to wait and see if Coke is still willing to support that sentiment. One thing is for sure, it is becoming more and more important for brands to truly understand one’s audience and get it right, the first time.