Katie and I have known about a certain chicken chain’s religious and political stances for a while, and we’ve made our decision as to whether or not to eat there. Yet we haven’t made a point of broadcasting our stance all over the internet. It’s come up in conversation with friends, and it’s lead to some interesting discussions, but our choice is our choice,and we respect that other peoples’ choices are their choices, and the world continues to turn. Most people know, or can infer, my politics, but I can hold my opinions without turning it into an excuse to have a flame war with people who disagree with me and, frankly, probably won’t be swayed by any arguments I could make. I’m more interested in the dynamics at play in deciding to tie your business to your politics.
There are a couple of issues here for me. The first is the high-level question of whether it’s even appropriate for companies to have political opinions. The chicken chain’s position has always felt like marketing to me. Sure, they lose a segment of customers who do not agree with their politics, but they gain the deep-seated loyalty of others who share their stance. It is no different than any other company deciding who the target market is and putting all of their resources into dominating that market. The powers-that-be in the chicken chain may genuinely feel strongly about the controversial issue that’s brought them so much publicity of late, but I cannot believe that there wasn’t a high-level discussion about business impact at some point.
The difficulty in a company taking a political stance is that once you go there, it’s hard to go back. There are some products that can only be marketed to one demographic, but food isn’t any of them. As a businessman, I want all of the customers I can possibly get. I want to grow the business. I want to make money, not just for myself, but for my stakeholders. I want to create jobs, and I want the best employees. I want those employees to be comfortable with me, the company, and their job. A political stance not only excludes a number of customers, it begins to exclude a segment of potential employees, some of whom might be the best and brightest in the field. You may not be refusing to hire them based on their politics, but they’re not going to apply to your company because of yours. You have limited your company’s potential.
The other issue is a matter of my privacy as the business owner, and the privacy of my employees. The world does not need to know my politics. While you can probably draw some conclusions based on the causes I personally support and am vocal about, all that really tells you is that that one thing is important to me. I can quietly contribute to any cause, politician, or party I choose without making all of the details public. If I did so through Asparagus Jumpsuit, there would be much more visibility and transparency. What I do personally does not reflect as much on my employees; what I do through my business implies that my employees agree with me, and that may not be the case. There is “guilt by association”, and if there is a backlash my employees may suffer for my decision. True, that could happen with any decision, but in the current politically divided environment it is less likely that my employees would have to deal with personal fallout from my business-motivated decisions than they would from my politically motivated ones.
That said, I don’t know if it’s appropriate for companies to take the other stance, either. In the wake of statements made by the head of the chicken chain, other companies have come out on the other side of the issue. Again, there’s a marketing feel to this, as if they’re bolstering the loyalty of their existing customer base, and not so much worried about losing people who probably aren’t their customers anyway.
What do you think? Is it appropriate for companies to take official stances on issues, or should they stick to doing their core business?