Every business now confronts the challenge of an America divided over what to believe and who to believe. In these tumultuous waters, how does a business navigate a relationship with their customers and work associates? What does a divided America mean to your business operations, brand and ability to win customers?
A divided America is also a business social media challenge. It is captured by the growth, and divisiveness, of fake news. What are your business risks from a fake news economy where unsubstantiated claims could cost you customers and the loyalty of your work associates?
The business challenges in a divided America
Election 2016 surfaced two Americas. One can be defined as Heartland America. The other can be defined as urban, Information Age America. If your company targets selling urban millennials then it runs the risk of alienating Heartland Americans. If your company sells to Heartland America then you run the risk of losing urban millennials as customers.
Fake news compounds this business challenge. The shoe company New Balance provides an illustration. New Balance executive Matthew LeBetton made the following comment on the proposed TransPacific trade deal: “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” His quote created a social media firestorm. Then a white supremacist website posted the fake news that New Balance was the official shoe of white people.
Do not underestimate the potential that the New Balance example could happen to your business even if you do not make political comments. Fake news is posted daily across social media channels covering the widest range of businesses and related issues including globalization, climate change and diversity.
Seven business challenges in our divided America
The following are seven business challenges every business owner or leader must navigate in today’s divided America:
How To Handle Fake News. A key lesson learned from the New Balance example is that your business facts and evidence offers little defense against fake news. Readers of fake news do so because fake news aligns with their emotions and values. A response based on facts will align with those who do not read fake news. The business challenge is to address the emotional connection generated through fake news. All businesses must immediately begin working on social media, PR and marketing plans for dealing with fake news.
Helping Work Associates Deal With A Divided America. Your work associates and your brand are at risk in a divided America. For example, a Starbucks customer became angry at the slow service from a barista. In anger this customer claimed “white discrimination.” This was captured on social media creating a firestorm for Starbucks and the Starbucks customer who ran a Florida real estate remodeling business. Sensitivity training for all associates on how to work in an emotionally divisive social environment is now an imperative.
Navigating your customers’ societal hot buttons. Because emotions are raw in America it is extremely important to know your customers’ societal hot buttons. A classic example is our flag. Is it a patriotic symbol to your customers? Or is it a symbol of distrust or disillusionment? If our flag can be this divisive then think about all of the other symbols in your brand. Every company needs market research to identify how their customers’ social hot buttons align with the brand, product advertising and company messaging.
Selling To A Divided Customer Base. Can any company be a universal brand in today’s divided America? Even as a small business, can you align with all of your town’s customers? Answers to these questions may no longer be in your hands. Social media postings, inspired by customers who are “for or against” your company’s values, may force your hand in deciding what customers will be attracted to your company and its products.
Globalization vs Nationalism. Nationalization is now your business issue. Think Ford. Ford is caught in the political spotlight over building a car manufacturing plant in Mexico. Doing so enables this American car manufacturer to maintain cost competitiveness in the global small car marketplace. But doing so could undermine its brand equity in the United States. The ramifications extend to Ford dealers and customers. If you are a Ford dealer do you want only Made in America vehicles even if they could cost more? If you are car customer, will you actually be willing to pay substantially more for your car or truck so it can be manufactured in America? Globalization vs nationalism is now a mine field for every brand and American company.
Disruptive technologies. America’s divide is not just on politics. It is divided on technology. Cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin, Portland and Seattle are designing, building, financing and selling 21st century’s technologies that are emerging as the lower cost, higher quality alternative to manual labor. This trend will dominate from the fast food counter to the manufacturing floor. It conflicts heavily with increased voter focus on manual labor job loss. The obvious question is whether your business adoption of 21st century technologies will win customers or make them feel threatened?
Executive Conflict of Interest. It currently appears that our President-elect seeks to retain family control over his businesses, located around the world, while fulfilling his duties as President. Our President-elect will be paid by a major network while in office as executive producer for the TV show The Celebrity Apprentice. President Trump will make conflict of interest a national issue. Is it naive to believe once this issue is raised on a national level that it will not spread to every business owner and leader? An immediate protective step is to engage legal counsel in an audit of your conduct. Another step is to engage an advisory board composed of trustworthy community members to advise and audit on code of conduct issues. For companies with a board of directors, conflict of interest issues should become a proactive focus.
About the author
Bill Roth is a clean tech pioneer who led the team that launched the first hydrogen fueled Prius. He is a featured contributor on Triple Pundit and Latin Business Today. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, has been used by thousands of business people to implement proven green best practices that make money and a difference. Bill’s latest book, The Boomer Generation Diet, is his personal story on how to achieve sustained weight loss while still having fun and living more. The book’s ten customizable best practices are the sustainable solutions to our national weight crisis that threatens our health and medical cost bankruptcy.