According to the Harris Poll's most recent "Reputation Quotient" study, 60% of consumers surveyed had decided not to do business with a company because of something they learned about how the firm conducts itself. Taking note of this new "consumer activist," consumer-focused companies are now leveraging the opportunity to rebrand their goods and services to stand for certain values and political beliefs. In connecting with consumers on this very personal and social level, many companies in crowded markets are finding a unique way to differentiate themselves and establish a higher-end image.
A Blurred Line
While the activist consumer has been developing for some time, the importance of values in consumer decisions has taken new shape with the surprise election of Donald Trump. After one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in U.S. history, consumers are no longer isolating politics to the polls. Human resource specialists say work productivity has been disrupted, CEOs are now making public political statements and companies are even seeing their shares downgraded on reputational risk after consumers perceive a “pro-Trump” biases. (See also: Presidential Race Thwarting Workplace Productivity.)
A prime example of consumer activism came with the anti-Trump #GrabYourWallet social media campaign that ensnared Nordstrom Inc. (JWN). This is perhaps the first time in U.S. history the president of the United States has fired back on Twitter, further igniting both his constituents and staunch opposition. (See also: Donald Trump Lashes Out at Nordstrom for Dropping Ivanka's Fashion Line.)
This strengthened consumer-to-business accountability has been reflected in headline news on corporate CEO’s response to Trump. Many times, pressure from customers have “forced” executives to denounce the new administration, if they hadn’t already gotten there on their own. In the case of Uber, the ride-hailing app’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, finally made the decision to leave the president’s business advisory council, as thousands deleted customer accounts with the on-demand transport platform.
Major consumer pressure piled on further after Trump’s executive order late last month banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Values-Based Marketing Initiatives
The Coca-Cola Company (KO), Nike Inc. (NKE), Ford Motor Co. (F) and many other companies issued statements condemning the ban and emphasizing the importance of diversity in America. Starbucks Corp.’s (SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide, while Facebook Inc. (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly denounced the order and a slew of other companies rolled out new values-based mission statements. Coca-Cola ran a new version of its “controversial” “American the Beautiful” commercial. Business Insider called Coke’s new advertising campaign “a multimillion-dollar branding opportunity … important enough to risk boycott threats.”
The list of politically motivated business initiatives in the Trump era, largely spurred by the demands of the activist consumer, goes on and on. Moving forward, as long as we can expect to Trump to remain as controversial as he’s promised to be, behind his infamous Twitter account, businesses will side with the consumer and strategize accordingly.