Winning in a Crazy Polarized World - Part 2

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

ITCB Consulting OCT2020 Newsletter Part
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In Part 1 we looked at some history and taking a look at neutrality in our marketing approach. Here in Part 2 we’ll talk about options and how to make smart business decisions in our ultra-polarized culture. As mentioned in Part 1, keep in mind that I’m not a professional marketer, I’m a strategist, evaluator, planner and troubleshooter. My passion is analyzing situations and developing response plans. Base all of your business decisions on your own careful research for your unique situation.

Avoiding The NEW Marketing Landmines

By Taking CONTROL of your DESTINY

Your Traditional Marketing Mindset

When I say traditional I’m not referring to traditional morals and values. I’m referring to your company’s normal, usual psyche – your marketing mindset. How are you thinking? Where are you looking? Like guiding a horse with the reigns, where that horse looks, he will go. As we follow the same processes, we all get comfortable doing the same thing that we have always done (our traditions).

When these times of division arise, our mindset quickly goes to our people, sales and bottom line. We must be careful not to offend anyone, because if we offend our customers, then we will lose sales. Our instincts say that if we don’t offend, we won’t lose customers and we will keep our company’s people and bottom line safe. Keep all marketing as non-controversial as possible.

The Old and New “B” Words

It’s the word that brings many business owners to their knees: BOYCOTT. The news is full of companies that are being boycotted for this or that. In today’s social media land where emotions run high and rationale runs low, people can affect your sales literally worldwide in seconds. With one false move, companies can see their sales and stock price shift overnight, whether they ever deserved it or not. There’s good reason to avoid offending anyone and remaining safe.

Boycott is the old “B” word, but times are changing…

BUYCOTT is the new “B” word and it is growing RAPIDLY

In recent history, boycotting has primarily been a strategy used by one side of social issues whose primary goal was to invoke change, while members of the other side of the division usually kept their heads down, continuing on with business as usual. What I’m seeing now is a shift. This brings me to our new “B” word: BUYCOTT.

BUYCOTT: “a type of protest aimed at a company or country with dubious ethical standards in which consumers buy the products of another company or country” ( A buycott is when consumers see that a company’s stand on a divisive issue either aligns or is opposed to their view as a consumer, they decide to seek out and buy from a company whose stand aligns with their thinking. In other word, instead of withholding their sales from a company they disagree with, they give a lot of business to a company they want to support. A recent example of this is the Goya foods company

A cultural shift is showing us a crazy new situation taking place. By taking a stand (any stand), we might see a BOYCOTT by one side and a BUYCOTT on the opposing side.

It appears that now BOTH sides may boycott and buycott equally in some cases. More and more of the American public is waking up to the fact that their pocketbook and spending habits can change the direction of companies.

Where do most of your customers stand on social issues?

We have to understand the social/political activist side of our customers

I see WAY too many companies missing the mark on knowing their customers. Friends, this is critical: we’ve GOT to modify our marketing accordingly. I’m not saying everyone should run out and hang controversial banners in their storefront. What I’m saying is that we need to consider and be aware of this new paradigm. Just being aware of this situation does not mean that we act on it, but the trends are pointing toward the POSSIBILITY that we may need to react differently in the near future.

Neutrality is NOT as safe as it used to be.

I mentioned this briefly in Part 1. Strong opposing forces coupled with dedication to their cause has birthed a movement which forces people to answer the question, “Whose side are you on?” Neutrality isn’t even an acceptable option to the extremes on each side.

This has infiltrated business in a BIG way. Every action is put under the political/social microscope; it’s a sniff test/sleuthing that the dedicated customer performs when they see your marketing materials, observe your partnerships, sponsorships, and check out the company’s social presence. The intense emotions behind all sorts of political and social issues have driven accusations that if someone has not made a stand for one side, they secretly support the other.

Will we be safe or more profitable if we remain a Switzerland

or can we see new levels of profitability by picking a side?

Impact on Your Business Today

These are questions we MUST ask ourselves:

1. How does our advertising need to change?

2. Your marketing is talking to your customers. What is it saying?

3. What is our New, INTENTIONAL Marketing Plan?

Here’s a Recent “Mask” Example

Have you noticed that your policy on wearing masks is starting to imply to people {not saying that it’s correct} which political side you have chosen? Again, it doesn’t matter what we believe; it only matters how our customers interpret our actions. At first out of fear, people searched for businesses that required masks with strict social distancing and sanitation rules; many still are. Now, a new group of people are looking for places where they do not have to wear masks and can get together in larger groups as they desire. These groups are not just different, they are opposites!

Initially we saw a united front for COVID masks, but it is becoming increasingly divided and heightened over the course of only 6 months or so. All over we see people literally berating and in some cases beating others over mask wearing, and that’s only one social issue. Now, companies are obviously bound to state mask policies, but this example shows us how quickly we can see a shift that requires a response. What only a few months ago was considered a safety measure has (for some) now grown into a perceived infringement on Constitutional rights. The main focus is literally life/death to some versus freedom/government control to others. When customers arrive at your facility or website, they’ll likely see COVID mask information. The verbiage/signage’s color, the size, the frequency, and the “feel” of your response can all trigger a response in your customers who are against it. Stating that it is a state or local government requirement can show your customers “The Why” you are doing it.

There are LOTS of hot issues right now. I can think of at least 5 big national issues, and all of us have more at the local level, too. So what do we do?

Your Ads Are Sending

A Direct Message To Your Customers

The New Important Issue Today Is

What Are Your Images IMPLYING?

Our Options

When we look at recent history (Part 1) and today’s circumstances, the only certainty is that eventually something will need to change. The only question is WHAT will we change, WHEN will we change it, and HOW much will we change it.

OPTION 1 – Avoid Taking Any Stand or Position

This sounds simple, but with the rapid development of issues and people’s response, many symbols that used to be universally safe are now emotional triggers. People are looking for your stand, and they use these symbols to decide what side you are on. You CAN NOT stick your head in the sand if you want to remain neutral; it requires intentionality. Symbols that were neutral or positive to 95% of Americans may now turn off 25% or more.

Trying to stay truly neutral will actually take

the MOST work, effort and skill going forward.

Neutral businesses will have to research both sides and understand how symbols, words and beliefs are communicated and AVOID ALL TRIGGERS. Miss one and risk misunderstandings on your position. REMEMBER – it doesn’t matter what you think or believe something means, it only matters what the opposing groups both believe that it means. It’s not enough to just go with your gut, because your customers don’t necessarily think the way you do, and when they see (or imagine?) blood in the water they’ll take their business elsewhere. Their mindset is heavily controlled by the “tribe” that they belong to, listen to and interact with. Their mindset may be very foreign to you.

Your best case of going neutral is that both sides believe that you are for them; worst case is both sides feel that you are secretly against them.

OPTION 2 – Choose Both Sides by Using Targeted Marketing

Social media marketing makes this option possible through targeted marketing that considers other sites they like, follow and belong to. Due diligence is required to understand the key words, symbols and beliefs for each side. Don’t assume.

The benefit is that both sides feel that you are with them and buy more of your stuff (buycott). The risk is that both sides might see you as a traitor/hypocrite when they find out you are playing both sides. Worst case is that both sides declare a boycott and no one buycotts. As you know, word spreads like wildfire and getting discovered can be embarrassing at best.

This approach may be utilized subtly or overtly. Let’s go back to the Nationalist/Globalist example from Part 1. In garnering support from the side of issues that appeal to the conservative/Nationalistic side, you might incorporate things like the American flag, military, police, pictures of a couple in a traditional marriage, church/prayer, guns/hunting/fishing, love of country, etc. To appeal to the progressive/Globalist side, you may incorporate images of the environment, global warming, renewable energy, increased racial diversity, non-traditional marriage, alternative gender identities, animal activism, social justice causes, and more.

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that each group feels strongly about all these things, or even adheres to all of them. Remember, customers are only looking for signals, consciously or subconsciously, when determining where to spend their dollars. Choosing both sides requires extreme caution to put the appropriate advertisement in front of the right customer. It can be stressful, messy and extremely risky.

OPTION 3 – Cater to Only One Side

Now this decision may be easy for those with a small customer base, but very risky for most companies. If 90% of your products or services are used by people on one side of an issue, then going all in may be your best choice. For the vast majority of companies, this approach will upset a significant group of customers/potential customers and we would be banking on the buycott being stronger than the boycott.

In many cases, when companies take a stand,

ONE side may yell boycott!, BUT

the OTHER side may start to yell buycott!

Companies have picked a side and lost a lot of business, while others have picked a side and started setting record sales. We can see the dramatic effect of choosing correctly (GOYA) or incorrectly (NBA). Goya set record sales for their stand and the NBA had the lowest viewership of the finals ever! I am not saying which side to pick, that totally depends on your product and service. The IMPORTANT PART is to pick CORRECTLY for your product and industry.

One new BIG thing that caught my eye is the gaining traction for the Nationalist movement. Nationalists are beginning to be intentional with their dollars and the causes they support. It’s the “power of the pocketbook,” and it may be even more influential in getting heard than voting, protesting, or letters to the company. I believe that many companies are not aware of this growing segment and its impact on their bottom line. Don’t get caught off guard by underestimating or not being aware of this GROWING group.

Future Success Depends On TODAY’s Action

We must make certain that our marketing department is focused on staying current and that your company presents a unified front. Public statements must coincide with advertising, sponsorships, etc. When faced with nearly identical products or services, many customers want to do business with companies who agree with them politically and socially. Marketing mistakes in this charged environment are WAY more costly than they used to be. I have heard many stories about companies picking a side and sales taking a big dive.

Whatever you do, do not upset both sides,

this is the worst-case scenario.

I have been shocked by some companies whose primary customer base are in one camp, but their corporate stand openly supports the other side. I am uncertain if they don’t understand their current customers or are just out of touch with the changing environment? Perhaps they are afraid of the boycotters, or maybe putting their own moral beliefs over profits. Whatever the case, every company must put a process/system in place that forces us to stay ahead of the curve.

We need to choose between: 1. Focus on tactics that unite, not divide OR

2. Benefit from division by pleasing one side

This article is already longer than I had anticipated but I want to leave you with some of actionable steps in a process that will help to navigate your company’s marketing response to political and social issues. I have put together a checklist detailing out the process and I would be happy to send you, just send a request to with The Great Divide in the subject line.

1. Settle on an official process & team to review

2. Track and trend new social changes

3. Determine which “tribe” your customer base is in on major social issues

4. Identify, assess and prioritize the potential impact of each issue on your bottom line

5. Document key indicators and plan for a unified marketing front

Be purposeful in what you do.

Now more than ever, we need fully decide our path

Allocating time and putting a process and system in place will NOT guarantee that you make the right decision, BUT it will certainly greatly increase the chances of it. Task someone with keeping a close eye on the “great divide,” make it an important part of your strategic planning, and see the opportunity in our wild, polarized world.

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