Let’s cut to the chase; doing digital marketing in a normal year is tough to get right. Doing it in an election year is tougher, and doing it in 2020 is like the Peanut Butter Falcon taking on Hulk Hogan. You’re best bet may be to fly under the radar and not get recognized; which, unless your goal is to do digital marketing that nobody sees, is like spending money on Jeffrey Epstein’s legal defense.
So what are we digital marketers to do? Well if you came here for answers, you’ll probably be disappointed, as I don’t have answers. However, I’m writing this post precisely because I want to think through the options and better understand at least a process for making decisions and creating a strategy that will help us be true to the message we want to share. So let’s begin.
Truth in Marketing
I’ve always been a resistant marketer because marketing can be bluster and bluff. There are truth in marketing laws for a reason. If marketing is all fluff and no substance, this quickly derails the legitimacy of a business. Sure, it works for a short time and can earn quick revenues, but it is not a winner long-term, and if you’re not in it for the long-term, we’re not compatible.
The question then remains, “How do I be truthful in my marketing, without polarizing my customers?” Unless your goal is to carve out a niche of woke kids or old conservatives, you probably don’t want to polarize your client base. It used to be good enough to just let the chips fall where they may, and to keep your personal political convictions active in personal circles, and in business and professional life keep the politics out. Not in 2020, however, because what you don’t say or support says as much about you as who or what you do support.
My advice is to be informed, be true to yourself, and hold to your convictions. Personally, I’ve never been someone who is easily persuaded. Even if I agree with someone, I tend to think about, and therefore come across as advocating, the opposite belief. Some call this being the devil’s advocate, but my goal is just to better understand the views of the other person. When you have those conversations, answer the “Why?” question behind what you believe. And no, “Turtles all the way down” is not an acceptable answer.
If you do hold to your convictions, choose intentionally whether you will be loud and proud, or reserved and resilient. The other option is to just go with the flow wherever popular culture seems to be leading. This seems to be the strategy of most major brands, so you’ll have good company.
All Publicity is Good Publicity
If your goal is immediate financial gain and influence, this is likely true. There are probably no viewpoints in the world that don’t have some followers who will see any person as a representation of their cause, and get enough of those and you’ll find an opportunity for short-term influence and financial gain. But if your goal is long-term financial gain, respect, and a clear conscience, then you’ll probably want to eliminate sources of bad publicity. However, bad publicity can come from many different sources, and living up to your ideals may mean accepting some bad publicity to support an employee who went against the grain and supported their values. I find it hard to condemn someone for living their values if they are the pursuit of Truth, Justice, and Freedom.
Marketing with a Grain of Salt
No matter what you do in this political climate, you’ll likely make somebody angry. The end goal isn’t to piss off the fewest people, but to remain true to the values that your brand espouses. Politics is about people having differing opinions about how to accomplish similar goals. Nobody has a monopoly on truth, and nobody is exempt from being a hypocrite at times. If there was one thing that would help society improve it might be just the ability to give each other a little grace. If you find yourself judging someone having a bad day, just think about how you would feel if someone filmed you on your worst day.
Just like road rage, it’s a lot easier if you don’t know the person in the other car. Go out and form relationships within your community and get to know people through church, Rotary, your local Chamber, etc. In 2020, we need all the humanity and compassion we can muster.