Polarization of Politics Having an Effect on Brand Management

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published August 23, 2018

As unlikely as it may seem, the polarization of the U.S. electorate brought about by the Trump administration appears to be having an effect on brand management, according to a leading independent marketing and brand consultant.

Peter Horst, head of CMO Inc., a consulting company, and the former chief marketing officer of Capital One, Hershey, General Mills, US West, and TD Ameritrade has published a book is entitled Marketing in the Fake News Era: New Rules for a New Reality of Tribalism, Activism and the Loss of Trust.

According to Horst, ever since Donald Trump was elected President “there’s been a giant elephant in the room” – not just the symbolic one that represents Republicans’ control of the House and the Senate, he writes – but a metaphorical one that indicates the uncertainty marketers feel in terms of how they should engage with consumers.

Trump has an ultra-loyal 35-40% of the electorate who will follow him anywhere. On the other hand, the anti-Trumpers have an equal or greater percentage of the population that feels exactly the opposite.

Horst goes on to write that this pro- or anti-Trump phenomenon kicks in when brands have been applauded or chastised by Trump for the company’s CEO’s stance on Trump. For example, some companies, such as Starbucks, have crossed Trump when Chairman Howard Schultz’s wrote his open letter in response to Trump’s original executive order on immigration.

Other companies like L.L. Bean, which was praised by the President in a tweet, received a backlash from members of the anti-Trump population who threatened to boycott the outdoor gear and apparel brand.

Evan companies that have remained silent have had problems, according to Horst.  Oracle, for example, has faced problems with employees, according to BuzzFeed, who criticized their employer for not speaking out against the executive order on immigration.

Other brands that have run into the Trump buzz saw include Uber, who announced it was suspending surge pricing as a protest to Trump’s immigration executive order. Moreover, the collapse of the President’s CEO committee after Charlottesville had victimized IBM’s Ginni Romette and Tesla’s Elon Musk.

The question is: how does a corporation walk the narrow line between favor and disfavor.  Horst writes: “Companies corporate reputations are more readily impacting their brand health. As a result, marketers need to be more mindful of relationships between the two.”

Horst offers the following advice to companies seeking to maintain a more resilient brand in the Trump era.

First — build your foundation. “Instead of just jumping on the next bandwagon, brands need to have a clear sense of their values and purpose then assess which issues are relevant to them,” he writes adding that it’s important for the brands leadership to be on board to provide a unified policy. “You want to make sure that when things get tough everybody is on the same page and running in the same direction,” he writes.

Second — make sure that brand reality matches brand values. When assessing their brands, marketers need to do an honest audit, he writes.  They should review their track record and see if they have a history of supporting the issues they claim to stand behind. Also, he adds, marketers should take inventory of their brands’ weaknesses and hire people who will help them stay honest about these brand values.

Third — be proactively transparent. He advises marketers to understand their customers’ political and social orientations. He suggests marketers seek to identify their brand loyalists and influencers and equip them with talking points.

Finally — react quickly and bravely. He urges marketers not to panic if a brand crisis occurs. They need to respond to the issue in hours not days and address the problem in the same channel. So, if there is a negative consumer conversation on Twitter, marketers should address the issue on Twitter — not in a press release.

The book has been published by Advantage-Forbes Books and is available on Amazon, and other publishing channels.

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.