In a growing trend, it's become fashionable for companies to become politically active, wearing their allegiances and issue stances on their sleeves like a congressional candidate at a 4th of July parade. There's nothing wrong with emphasizing your company's values, and self-proclaimed experts will tell you that taking a public stance is a must for business success.
Don't listen to them.
Taking a political or issue-based stance is a risk, pure and simple. Silly, shortsighted headlines like Democrats believe in Starbucks, Republicans believe in Exxon ignore a couple basic facts:
- Whatever they "believe" in, Democrats will still be driving gas-powered cars and Republicans will still be drinking coffee for years to come.
- Committing your brand to one party or issue will inevitably alienate others.
For large companies such as Starbucks, Exxon, Walmart, and others, that may very well be a risk worth taking. They're secure in their customer bases and have established brands. Just as importantly, they have large geographic reaches that allow them to pick up customer deflections elsewhere, in locations where people may be more inclined to agree with their newfound political vocality.
Lyft took a calculated risk in publicly opposing President Trump's travel ban with its $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union. This may have been philosophical, but it was also strategic: Ride-hailing users are twice as likely to identify as liberal than to identify as conservative, according to the Pew Research Center on Internet & Technology.
The timing of their activism was also perfect. Uber was in the middle of the #DeleteUber crisis and facing consumer fallout for implementing surge pricing during the chaotic days following the announcement of the travel ban. Lyft has since been rewarded by investors ($600 million in new funding) and users (125 percent year-on-year increase in active passengers in the month of February).
For your company, things may be entirely different. Small businesses and startups don't have the established brand and customer outreach infrastructure that Fortune 100 corporations do, and customer defections, not to mention investor flight, can pose a harmful and unnecessary risk to your businesses survival.
Activist pressure oftentimes serves as a form of de facto regulation. Think about it -- mandatory requirements which can be expensive to comply with but even more costly to violate. Entering into an agreement regulated in this way can be an expensive endeavor for your company, and should be considered in the context of your efforts to grow your business, not just your political reputation.
Politically active companies are all the rage these days, and the narrow echo chamber that you receive your news from may imply that everyone around your business shares your ideals. They don't. If you're going to take a public political or issue-focused stance, do it with the knowledge that you may have to pay a higher price than you bargained for.