Managers often have challenges understanding how to position their brands and companies when contentious public issues find them. More interesting in some ways are companies whose managers seek out contentious issues. It is very hard to measure the net impact of having a contentious social mission. Experiments are hard to run on social missions. Yet, it is worth pointing out that there are definite upsides. it is very possible to reconcile good marketing and social missions.
Good Marketing And Social Missions
Having a mission beyond making money gives a coherence to firms both internally and in the public’s imagination. Chik-fil-a has a much clearer identity than many firms. It helps reinforce this by being so up-front about its controversial values. This clearly has a potential downside. I, for one, would never visit a Chik-fil-a. Yet, the relevant question isn’t “are there downsides”? Of course, there are. The key question is: “are the upsides larger than the downsides?” My guess is that in a politically fractured world having a controversial social mission is a way to secure the support of a group of consumers. This means it can certainly be a net positive.
Bland Social Missions
Of course, one can have a social mission that pretty much everyone agrees with. Maybe this is something with puppies. There is nothing wrong with them. I’ll go on record to say I like puppies, who doesn’t. Still, adopting such issues can seem fake. The cause might seem clearly survey tested and the least offensive choice opted for. If so, it doesn’t seem like a heartfelt commitment. It is a much clearer signal that the managers of the firm really care about the cause if the choices made annoy some people.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream adopt progressive social causes, e.g., immigrant rights, climate change. The business idea is that even if they lose 50% of potential customers they can sell three times as much to those who do buy. It is a brave choice but maybe
[p]issing off some of your customers is one of the smartest decisions you can make.Steimer, 2017, page 29
Why Not Use Firms That Share You Values?
I have absolutely no prediction ability. As such, there is no need to believe me. For what it is worth my guess is that we will see more controversial social missions in the future. I have a choice about where I buy my margarine/trousers/TVs/cookies etc… Why should I give my money to a firm that doesn’t share my values?
Read: Sarah Steimer (2017) How Ben & Jerry’s Took Both Its Ice Cream and Mission Global, Marketing News, August 1, pages 43-49