Too Political? You May Be Turning Off Customers, a Study Says

Should You Mix Business and Politics?

The results of the November 2016 election have inspired many Americans to take a stand either for or against the Trump administration’s policies. From Hobby Lobby CEO David Green who has outspokenly supported the president to Nike President and CEO Mark Parker who emailed employees expressing opposition, many corporations are taking a stand, too. Should your small business take a political stand?

Should You Mix Business and Politics?

While coming out in support of political issues may be trendy, a new study by the 4A’s suggests it’s not necessarily a smart move. Although more than half of consumers in the survey (51 percent) believe the current administration’s policies have made businesses more vocal about their political opinions, taking a stand is riskier than business owners may think. Companies that mix business and politics in a negative way are likely to face consumer backlash, the report says, while businesses that take a positive tack generally don’t see much of a lift in sales as a result.

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A couple of caveats: Being blatantly racist or homophobic will definitely hurt you. Seventy-two percent of consumers in the survey say they are “not at all likely” to purchase from a brand they consider racist, while 50 percent of consumers say they are not at all likely to buy from a brand they consider anti-LGBTQ.

However, taking the opposite stance doesn’t have an equally positive impact on purchase intent. For example, just 21 percent say they are very likely to buy from a business that brands itself as “inclusive.” The majority of consumers (28 percent) say it wouldn’t make a difference to them.

Consumers are even clearer about their preferences for brands taking a stand in a Sprout Social survey that asked what they want (and don’t want) to see from businesses on social media. More than seven in 10 (71 percent) consumers dislike it when brands talk about politics on social media. They also find it annoying when businesses are snarky, try too hard to be cool, make fun of their competition, or make fun of their customers.

What do consumers want from your business? They’re not asking for much, really. Some 86 percent of respondents want businesses to be honest on social media; 83 percent want businesses to be friendly and 78 percent want them to be helpful. They like it when businesses use social media to respond to their questions and join conversations. In other words, they want you to be nice.

But what should you do if you feel passionately about a political cause — so passionately you just can’t keep quiet about it? Here are a few things to consider.

  • Can you afford to lose customers over the issue? While big corporations may be able to alienate some customers without much ill effect, small businesses are likely not to have the same wiggle room.
  • How does your customer base feel about the issue? If 90 percent of your target market shares your views, taking a stand could be a no-brainer.
  • Do you walk the walk? When you criticize political or social actions, people will start to examine what you do in your own business more closely. Make sure you can withstand the scrutiny.

With politics so prevalent in American life right now, it seems consumers prefer brands that provide a break from the conflict. Being helpful, friendly and nice may not be trendy, but it is a better recipe for business success than mixing business and politics.

Stump Speech Photo via Shutterstock 1 Comment ▼

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

One Reaction
  1. The questions raise in the bullet points are good one. I think the environment we are in now makes being totally unpolitical a vulnerability that businesses never had to experience before. In fact we were more likely to see businesses as adversarial to societal issues. Today people expect businesses to be ethical, and will pay for services and products that support those beliefs. We’ve marched to that point before the arrival of the Trump Administration. Questions about the business ties and separation of those ties from federal government activity have made it really difficult to not have a position, not have a stand, and not have a diametric opposition between customers who have strong feelings about the administration and those who don’t.

    At the end of the day the word politics means the art of dealing with people. The subject is just one more aspect business owners of all sclae must address.

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