TRUMP, TWITTER & AVOIDING TOTAL DISASTER
Reality TV star turned President, Donald Trump tends to rub people up the wrong way. If he’s not grabbing headlines (or threatening to grab something he shouldn’t) he’s turning to Twitter to vent his rage or taking on global leaders in telephone spats.
But the prolific, pervasive and not exactly thick-skinned Trump is not a man to be trifled, or aligned with lightly.
Several big brands have taken on President Trump recently including Amazon, Airbnb, Apple, Netflix and Facebook. Some have soared like a birth certificate producing Barack Obama, others have stumbled like a CIA supported Hillary Clinton.
Like most businesses, we’ve been following the news [fake or otherwise] to witness the impact on brands who dare to take on or support President Trump.
Thinking of going toe-to-toe or hand-in-hand with the most powerful man in America? Or even speaking out on any political issue in general, on behalf of your business? You need to read these 3 mini case studies first and note their advice.
Ride-hailing app, Uber came out of nowhere to become a $68bn start-up success, operating across 311 cities in 58 countries. Given its international market, you’d expect it to be politically neutral, but more than 200,000 Uber customers have deleted the app recently and it’s all down to one of President Trump’s most controversial orders.
The New York Taxi Workers Association were keen to show their support for the JFK Airport protest, against President Trump’s controversial ‘Muslim ban’ so they called upon their drivers to steer clear of JFK, during the one-hour strike.
Uber chose a different route, lowering prices around JFK Airport, by eliminating surge pricing during the protest. People on social media quickly assumed that Uber was trying to counteract the strike in support of the ban.
Uber went into damage control, explaining that their rate change wasn’t motivated by political reasons, but was put in place to ‘avoid profiting off increased demand during the protest’. UBER CEO, Travis Kalanick, went on to pledge $3m to help drivers unable to enter the US. He even eventually left his seat on a White House Advisory Board, after facing growing pressure from protestors.
But Uber’s subsequent U-turn has done little to stop people posting screenshots of them deleting the Uber app from their phones on social media, using the hashtag #DeleteUber. Lyft, Uber's main rival, responded to Trump’s order by vowing to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights group that are fighting the ban in court and they have been more than happy to pick up Uber’s newly departed customers.
Lessons learnt: Our tip? When things are politically sensitive or volatile, clarity counts. Motivations behind actions can be scrutinised and misconstrued, causing serious damage to a brand and its reputation.
Try to think about things from all sides and leave no room for misinterpretation. Above all else, avoid accusations of opportunism and steer clear of appearing to profit off serious incidents, that adversely affect people’s lives.
Earlier this month, luxury US department store Nordstrom dropped Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka’s clothing line, officially due to a ‘steady decline’ in sales. President Trump instantly took to Twitter, from both his personal and presidential accounts, to condemn the decision, stating that his daughter has been treated ‘so unfairly’.
The world’s media eagerly watched Nordstrom's shares. Would they rise like a pneumonic push-up bra or fall like a cheap pair of panties? Well, while the stock briefly dipped into negative territory immediately following Trump's tweet, shares have since more than recovered, rising by 3.3%. Competitors Sears and Kmart followed suit, by announcing that they are dropping Ivanka’s brand from stores, along with other Trump branded collections.
Lessons learnt: Be professional and stick to business matters. Nordstrom's decision wasn’t politically motivated and they didn’t rise to Donald Trump’s tweet. They stuck to what they do best. Sell clothes that sell well, leaving the US President mired in further accusations of using his political position to further bolster a failing Trump brand.
Global coffeehouse chain Starbucks operate in 23,768 locations across the world. They make a mean pumpkin latte and their most hotly debated topic on social media is usually their seasonal cups. But at the start of this month, Starbucks got political. The reason? You guessed it; the ‘Muslim ban’.
In response to President Donald Trump's executive order to temporarily bar refugees access to the US and to ban entry for anyone from seven majority Muslim countries, Starbucks' chief executive Howard Schultz said that the coffee giant will hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years.
Trump supporters retaliated by calling for a boycott of the brand. Starbucks stuck to their guns and went one step further, offering workers affected by Trump's travel ban free legal advice.
Starbucks’ position appeared to be ethically motivated, but you could argue it was also a smart business move and a fairly low-risk one. The coffee house chain is known for its liberal stance, as are the vast majority of its customers, so their decision is unlikely to antagonise their existing customer base. Also, the majority of its outlets in the US are outside of Trump’s heartland, which would significantly reduce the impact of any boycott.
So it’s no surprise that the effect on the brand has been largely positive, with Starbucks receiving widespread praise on social media and witnessing the second biggest weekly rise on their YouGov brand index score ever recorded.
Lessons learnt: Know your market and evaluate the risks. Don’t capitalise on political matters, ask yourself: Is the risk worth the reward? What do my consumers think about the issue? Should my brand be talking about this?
Business and politics will always be intertwined. But what’s right for one brand might not be right for another. If you want to play it safe, keep an apolitical stance. If a political move has a genuine impact on your business or sector you might want to voice an opinion. Each situation needs to be evaluated on its own terms. But that evaluation is vital.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s important, in life to stand up for what you believe in. But in business it’s important to do your homework, understand your audience and carefully weigh up any fallout from voicing a strong political standpoint. Standing on a soap box can get you new dedicated followers and a wider audience, it can also cause you to fall flat on your face.