The Brand Management of Hate

Come January 20th hate will have a new home. It’s called the White House.

Not every person or even the majority of people who voted for Donald Trump is hateful, but haters do love him.

They see a guy who is now leader of the free world, and they believe that deep down he’s just like them. They feel empowered. They’re emboldened. And they’re starting to act out.

At a lunch counter a few days ago, I met a priest who told me that spray-painted swastikas are already springing up on churches near his home of Carlisle, PA.

Just over a week ago, student demonstrators at a high school in York, PA could be seen and heard shouting “White power!” The moment was captured on You Tube and prompted our Governor to convene Pennsylvania’s public school’s leadership for a special strategy session.

It’s not even Christmas yet, and haters are overjoyed.

They’ve been busy on the brand front too. Last week, Digiday reported that a writer for the Neo Nazi blog called Daily Stormer endorsed New Balance as the “official shoes of white people.” New Balance is spending a fortune trying to undo the damage to its brand.

In addition, thanks to the brave new world of overly automated media buying known as Programmatic, beloved brands like Nissan are advertising on Breitbart. This has caused some loyal drivers to question Nissan’s values and second-guess their choice in a car.

You better hope like hell that hate doesn’t take a liking to your brand.

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend that any business wishing to remain in business for very long take a hard political stand, but this is not business or politics as usual. This isn’t about just getting along and hoping for the best. Hope is not a strategy.

In times like these you need a plan and here’s what I suggest you do:

1. Know who you are and what values you hold most dear. While you’re at it, make sure your employees know who you are and what you stand for too. Be very clear on how you expect them to behave as ambassadors of your business.

2. Lead with your values. Don’t just talk about them. Do something about them. Frankly, if I were New Balance I wouldn’t be fighting some skinhead’s endorsement of my products with reactionary words alone. I’d put new soles on every pair of New Balance shoes that left a footprint that reads #Stamp Out Hate. Then I’d donate a portion of the proceeds from every pair sold to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

3. Lastly, carefully consider whom you give business to. No individual or organization should ever profit from a belief system that marginalizes and instills fear in the diverse people who have made America great.

Brands have always battled for hearts and minds, but we are entering a new kind of war. It’s not just about profit and loss and market share. It’s not just about ring around the collar, or just doing it.

It’s about proactive leadership, and making it clear where you stand.