Bud Light, Target, and McDonald’s all experienced market blowback due to communication and product decisions. Bud Light lost its coveted position as the number one beer in America when a trans influencer promoted it. Target experienced adverse customer reactions to merchandise during Pride Month. And McDonald’s franchise owners pushed back when the Cardi B-Offset celebrity meal launched.
All that blowback has a common theme - it’s from conservative customers. Conservative blowback is even coming to light with NFL quarterback Travis Kelce dating Taylor Swift. So why conservative customers? After all, liberal customers are famous for marching and protesting. The answer can be found in the differences in how the two groups form and lose trust.
Conservative and liberal customers trust different brands because brands project different social values. Alignment or misalignment with social values seems like an obvious distinction, but each group has an interesting twist.
Liberal customer trust accelerates when the brand’s social values match their own. Yet, when presented with conservative social values, trust remains somewhat neutral, assuming the social values are not extreme.
For conservative customers, it’s the opposite. Trust with conservative customers is mostly neutral when aligned with a brand’s social values. But when presented with more liberal social values, conservative customer trust plummets.
To put it more succinctly, the only upside in building trust with social value alignment is with liberal customers, and the only downside with social value misalignment is with conservative customers. It’s such an interesting puzzle! Yet it explains why conservative customers are more prone to boycott products - as with Bud Light, Target, and McDonald’s.
In the case of Taylor Swift dating Travis Kelce, it’s liberal celebrity culture crashing into NFL culture, which has a conservative customer component. But keep in mind that the NFL, according to Morning Consult, attracts liberal and conservative customers equally, so it’s a piece of the NFL audience that has a problem with this relationship, not most of it unless it’s at a local level.
While at the University of Oxford, Jordan Mansell studied how trust levels change when conservatives and liberals share values with other groups. He found that trust levels for liberals increase with others when they believe they share their social values. However, if others do not share their social values, their trust does not decrease- it remains the same.
On the other hand, he found that conservatives maintain their trust level with others if they know they share the same social values. Conversely, if conservatives are led to believe others do not share their social values, their trust in that group goes markedly down.
A recent study by Gallup supports this finding by pointing out that Democrats (aka liberal customers) are far more likely to want brands to “take a public stance on current events.” A full seventy-five percent of Democrats vs. just eighteen percent of Republicans hold this belief.
A separate study by Y. Sekou Bermiss of the University of Texas and Rory McDonald from Harvard Business School corroborates these studies by looking at liberal and conservative employee turnover. In this study, the researchers determined that when conservatives in the workplace surround liberals, liberal staff are not especially prone to leave. On the other hand, when conservatives are surrounded by liberal staff at work, they are far more likely to leave. It’s possible to conclude that conservative staff will have less trust in an organization with predominantly liberal values and, therefore, are more likely to exit, which is a form of boycott.
As stated many times in this newsletter, every business should understand the breakdown between liberal and conservative customers it currently has. This breakdown most likely reflects the market and informs how to build trust - to manage risk and fuel growth.
Suppose a more liberal business has a majority of conservative customers. In that case, the risk is higher because the brand may naturally project liberal social values onto its market, impacting customer trust. This is the case with Target, which is headquartered in a liberal area and has liberal management yet also has a retail footprint that skews conservative.
When you know your customer and market breakdown along worldview lines, you can make more intentional decisions about projecting your organization’s social values. The result will be a lower risk of boycotts and more efficient growth because your market will have a stronger fit with your business.
Social values do not have to touch on hot-button issues. They can be as simple as the relative differences in empathy, different perceptions of the future, and even thought styles, which are all explored in this newsletter. You can find many more distinctions in values by scanning past issues. When you study these differences, you better understand both sides, giving you greater market insight into all your customers.
The NFL treads lightly on social values because they know they have large contingents from both groups. The NFL and baseball are unique in how they pull both sides together. But that won’t always stop players from bringing differences to the surface.
Travis Kelce, with unknown political leanings, will see his relationship with liberal NFL customers accelerate due to being seen with Taylor Swift. Liberal customers will like him and trust him more. This is demonstrated in a recent 400% increase in his jersey sales. How his conservative fans react is a different story, perhaps with a spike in jersey listings on eBay.