“In an increasingly connected world public disillusionment with politicians, influencers, and other authority spills over into cynicism about your business and its claims.”
~ Debra Hilton
A Grim Warning…
There is an increasing tendency to assume that what we are being told is a half-truth at best, and a half-lie at worst. You don’t need to look much farther than the Brexit debacle in the UK, the Trump impeachment theatricals in the US, Firefighters and Climate Change misinformation in Australia, and the unending sequence of scandals in Victorian politics to see that there is a problem with public confidence and increasingly partisan positioning.
People either respond to this atmosphere by taking up the cudgels for one side or another… or by simply throwing up their hands in despair and distrusting both sides equally. Whichever side of the political and philosophical divide you stand on, this attitude is extremely bad for your business because when levels of cynicism rise anything that sounds like hype, exaggeration, or marketing-speak gets pushed into the ‘unbelievable’ category.
How Does This Affect You and Your Business?
Since you are (presumably) not a politician or taking a stand in the political arena, you may think that you are immune to these problems.
BAD NEWS: you’re not!
People’s B.S. antennae are waving madly and their alarms are set off by just about anything you do or do not say. I was interviewing people for a case study project last week and some of the responses I received were very illuminating, especially by contrast with similar interviews I carried out eighteen months ago. Here’s what I discovered:
- Even after talking to sales representatives they were less confident that they would receive what they needed than they would have been eighteen months ago.
- Three of five interviewees chose this company because their claims were more understated than other options. Last time four of five chose this company on the basis of time and cost despite the fact that competitors promised more.
- A major concern that prospects had to overcome was the fact that this company makes no public statement about their asylum seeker policy, labour policy, or attitudes to climate change even though their product is recognised as stable and high-quality. Last time no one really cared.
- Some respondents openly stated that they were biased toward businesses who shared their political and social views and that this was a major factor in their decisions.
The lesson… you need to consider these factors in your messaging, marketing, and platform choice. There isn’t really a right answer, but the awareness is everything.
So, what can you do about it?
Make a Choice: Play it Safe or Take a Risk
Honestly, you can validly argue this both ways.
The answer depends on your appetite for risk, your target market size, the strength of your own convictions in relevant areas, but you probably need to consider making it a matter of record. Let’s look at your options:
- Make a Statement: If you choose to make a statement, then you should accept that people who don’t share your views will use that as a reason to choose your competitors… unless you have a stupendous level of authority. On the other hand, it is also a reason for people to choose to work with you, and you may prefer to work with clients who are quite happy for you to share your perspectives on controversial topics and enjoy them. This will also help you make decisions about marketing and advertising strategies and locations.
- Keep it Secret: If you choose this route then it’s worthwhile making it clear (either explicitly or implicitly) why you have chosen to set your personal views aside… which also makes a statement that you see the world in a nuanced way and which can be very useful in certain industries.
As I mentioned, I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong way to play this, but I do believe that you should be consciously choosing one or the other.
Don’t Make This Mistake!
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your customers are stupid.
One of the people I interviewed pointed out the a company they didn’t choose made the following statement:
“We respect your privacy and believe that you will make a wise and rational decision.”
The next thing they knew this company’s ads were popping up all over their browser and they also received phone call solicitations from them even though they had not provided a phone number. As he said, from that moment the company in question was out of the running because their marketing tactics clearly showed that they did not respect their privacy or trust their decision making.
The point: if you are going to state your principles, make sure that your actions line up with them because your customers deserve your respect. If you don’t follow this advice, then be prepared for the damage it may do to your authority and credibility.