Tough Choices in Marketing: Should My Business Take a Side?

Marketing, brand identity, and policy are not easy tasks. The more our country progresses in technology and communication the more the rules of marketing and company policy changes. To stand up for what we believe in and be willing to hold ourselves accountable for our actions sounds good. If anything it sounds perfectly idealistic. But when you know that your livelihood is on the line, along with the lives of the other people that are investing in your business, and you add a bottom line into the mix, it puts any business owner in a paralyzing position.

Should they specify how they feel on an issue, and run the risk of alienating a demographic, or should they play it safe and say nothing at all? Can a business even have a stance on an issue at all? Does it help or hurt a society when a corporation stands behind an issue in any sort of way? The only way to answer these questions is to look at how we should deal with criticism, look at our motives, and pay attention to any results that might come out of taking a stance.

The Language of the Almighty Dollar in Business

Money talks. That is a truism that has existed since coins were the acceptable shorthand for basic trade. As cynical as it sounds, our capitalist society uses currency to dictate policy and decision making. It is why America upholds the idea of corporate personhood, even though a corporation does not breathe, think, eat, or feel. It is why political action committees (PACs) dictate the success of a government candidate more than the people that the candidate is supposed to represent. It is also why the Supreme Court stated that spending money is considered free speech. It is a hard truth, but one that ought to be told candidly.

Because no matter how big or small your business is, it is dictated by money.

So, before you decide to make a stance or make a public announcement on any issue on the behalf of the company, you need to ask yourself. “Who is my audience? Who spends the most money in my business? What incentivizes these customers to spend money at my store?” When you intimately understand the type of people that spends their money in your business, you can start to get a clear picture of whether or not your business will take a hit with the stance that you make on the behalf of your business.

Know That you Can’t Avoid Criticism Forever

aesop, criticism, business, decision

One of my favorite Aesop’s Fables is the Old, the Young, and the Donkey. In the story, all three adjust their strategy according to the criticism they hear on the road, only to come across more criticism. In the end, they came up with such a ludicrous solution that it backfired and all three drowned in a river. The moral of the story? “Try to please everyone, and you will please no one.” It is impossible to avoid criticism, when your company takes a position, no matter what that position is. But if you do take a stand on the behalf of your business, you should know when to stand by it.

That comes with an aside. Just because you stand by something doesn’t mean that you should never accept criticism at any point. People do make mistakes sometimes. Even owners of massive corporations make mistakes. It is part of the human condition. There are times when insight from an outside source is required. Mainly, when there is a problem you are not used to solving or you are losing business and you don’t know why. It is always okay to humble yourself and ask for help.

However, when you don’t take a stance at all, it is not going to protect you from criticism either. Because for as long as you present anything to the public you are going to come across criticism. So if you are going to come across it anyway, you need to look at what it is that you are willing to stand behind.

Be Kind in your Business and Marketing Strategy

If you are really having trouble with what it is your business stands for, and you don’t want to open a floodgate that would ruin your reputation with the wrong people, the best thing that you can do is to just be kind. If you think that politics are too heavily charged, and you want to function with as little backlash as possible, your business would do well to be kind to as many people as possible.

Potential customers, stockholders, employees, every person that works or interacts with that aspect of business should be a recipient of your kindness. That is, of course, all within reason. You do not want to lower all your prices and prevent everyone from getting paid fairly for the sake of making customers happy. But you can go out of your way to make your business a comfortable enough place to function.

If you can do that with as little bias as possible, your business will succeed in the long run.