I’ve always said there are two things I’d never want to be: a big-time football coach or a politician. In both cases, you’ll experience the highest of highs of public opinion and the lowest of lows, and that can change in an instant. The majority of the crowd will love you if you’re successful — as long as you always continue being successful, and find your success only in a way they wholeheartedly agree with.
Public opinion is a fickle thing. But did you know, like it or not, that every business owner is a politician of sorts?
As this world becomes more socially and politically conscious than ever before, there’s a marketing concept really starting to impact owners’ pocketbooks without many even realizing it. It’s called “brand diplomacy,” and it essentially means fewer people in today’s market are basing their purchase decisions solely on the old standards of price, quality, and availability. More and more are forming their buying habits around supporting brands that promote causes they agree with. “To get my money, your air conditioner better cool my home and make me feel like I’m making a difference.” It’s the world we’re living in.
While I’ve never grocery shopped weighing the socioeconomic impact of buying Land-o-Lakes over Country Crock, apparently I’m in the minority. Marketing and branding giant Edelman reported in their article titled “The New Brand Democracy” that “Nearly two-thirds of consumers now choose, switch to, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues,” and that people are now using their purchasing power almost as a vote in support of one brand over another. Crazier than that, of the people polled, more than half said they feel where they spend their money is more important than their actual vote at the polls. “Fifty-three percent of respondents agree that brands can do more than government to solve social ills — and nearly half say that brands have better ideas,” the article stated.
That puts new meaning to the feeling that money talks. But more importantly, with so much false and changing information out there, things that look like perfectly safe bets to support today can be reputation killers tomorrow. How do you navigate a marketplace where one wrong word or misplaced stand can bring instant backlash?
Unless you’ve got a teleprompter and a team of speech writers, this can get tricky (and sometimes that doesn’t even help). So here are a few tips to make sure your homeowners can confidently show their support of you with their business.
- First, the negative is much easier than the positive. It’s an election year, and our country is facing several huge issues separating people into very heated and opinionated factions. If at all possible, stay far away from attaching solid viewpoints on these things to your company — or be ready for the backlash. If you are posting political memes on Facebook — especially on your company page — or trash-talking about your favorite football team, realize you are alienating and offending a considerable portion of your potential customers. Remember, you might not agree with the people in your area on every point, but you still want their business, right? Don’t give them an immediate reason to go elsewhere.
- This goes for your employees, too. Have social media guidelines put in place and make sure everyone affiliated with your company understands they reflect the business as a whole. Guard your appearance as best you can and monitor the messaging that goes out from your company closely.
- Next, become the hometown hero. You aren’t like Amazon, who has to worry about staying on the good side of everyone around the world because they’re all potential customers. You can focus on home sweet home. And that’s where you desire to make an impact anyway, right?
- Think about a way to pour money back into your community for the benefit of everyone. Instead of a run-of-the-mill “$100 off any new system install,” try “With every new system install, $100 is donated toward building a new community recreation center” or “toward air filtration systems to help fight sickness in our local schools.” The Atlanta Small Business Network reports in an article titled “Community Involvement: Why It’s Good for Business” that 82 percent of customers are more likely to do business with a company that is actively reinvesting to benefit their hometown. Talk with the city or your local chamber of commerce for ideas.
- Lead the way pouring back into your community and it will do a couple of things: 1) establish that you care about more than just your customer’s money, and 2) give your customer the warm fuzzies they’re looking for, knowing their purchase also helped better their city.
- Let it be known. Any good PR firm will tell you how important it is to be seen doing good work. Being seen or getting extra business shouldn’t be your only motivation for doing good work, but it is an excellent side benefit. Post photos of you handing donation checks to civil authorities, doing volunteer work, and being active to support local causes. And be sure to include a tagline like, “Without our awesome customers, this wouldn’t be possible” everywhere you can. This is not something ABC Air is doing; this is something ABC Air’s customers have made happen.
- Finally, engage with them. Make your customers feel like a part of your work and family through ongoing interaction. If the only time a homeowner hears from you is when you’re sending a coupon and asking for a sale, that relationship (or lack thereof) will feel one-sided, and your messaging will quickly fall on deaf ears.
- Dr. Frederick Reichheld is a New York Times best-selling author and customer retention specialist. He advises in his book The Loyalty Effect that for every sales solicitation a prospect receives from you, they should receive at least four “soft touches.” These are emails, social posts, and print pieces that simply add value to the homeowner for having a connection with you. Send home tips, money-saving ideas, expert advice, and news about what you’re doing in the community. Run surveys to ask customers’ opinions about local issues or services they’d like to see you add. This shows you understand what that homeowner is dealing with in their home and honestly care to help improve their lives.
- According to Reichheld’s book, repeat customers spend 67 percent more per transaction than first-time customers, so continued engagement to build loyalty and community after the first transaction can revolutionize your business. Just a 5 percent increase in retention yields profit increases of 25-100 percent.
- “This alone,” writes Reichheld, “can easily double profits in seven years over the company whose retention remains at the industry norm.” Bring them in, engage them in valuable ongoing conversation, and build your brand into a relationship that’s hard to leave.
Again, in a very divided and opinionated world, attempting to stay on the right side of public perception can be daunting. Stay above the fray and resist the temptation to align your business too far on either side of a debate. Remember, your company wins by getting people to trust you with their home comfort needs, not by trying to push outside ideologies. There will still be times when negative affiliations get attached to you, but developing a sense of honesty, community, and familiarity with a loyal customer base you’ve invested in will go a long way in people giving you the benefit of the doubt.