It was a Monday in mid-2008 when the staff at Global Healing Center, an online health supplement retailer based in Houston, decided to conduct an experiment. According to Ben Nettleton, social media and affiliate director, the team posted a bumper sticker graphic with the name of their preferred presidential candidate on the bottom of the home page.
“We wanted to see what would happen and figured that our customers would reach out in support of our views,” he says.
Less than 24 hours later, Nettleton’s e-mail inbox was flooded with unsavory messages from customers. Some read, "I will never purchase your products again if even one dime goes to that (bleep)!" and "Are you kidding me?!?!?! I thought you guys were better than that!"
Is Picking Sides Worth It?
The team took down the graphic two days after posting it and met to discuss what had happened. Nettleton says the team deemed the practice of picking political sides “simply not worth it,” adding that staff members are now much more cognizant of potentially polarizing customers.
Janice Jucker, also in Houston, is adamantly against posting political signs at her business. Unlike Global Healing Center’s virtual storefront, Jucker has a brick-and-mortar location. She is co-owner of Three Brothers Bakery, a Loop neighborhood fifth-generation culinary institution, and says she is often tempted to take a political side but always ends up shying away because, as she puts it, “everyone is a customer.”
She won’t hide her personal feelings when consumers ask, she says, but prefers to lighten the mood during election years with cookie polls. “Some of our cookies will say Obama and some will say Romney,” says Jucker. “We will see which cookies sell the most, announce it and have fun with it.”
Jason Wagner is manager of Sellmart, a used car dealership in San Diego, and says he’s happy to post signs in his windows. In fact, he pasted a large Obama poster in 2008. “I didn’t notice a change in business, but it definitely started a lot of political conversations,” he says.
Wagner maintains that he doesn’t push his views on any customers and welcomes conversations about controversial topics.
Will he do it again? “Yep, I’m pretty sure I’ll put up another Obama sign this year,” he says.
Support the Process, Not the Person
It isn’t a good idea to post political signs in businesses because it risks alienating consumers, says Jon Picoult, founder and principal of Watermark Consulting, a business advisory firm in Simsbury, Conn.
Instead, he recommends small-business owners choose an issue to publicly stand behind, making sure it isn’t controversial. He gives examples like Whole Foods, which focuses on the "go local" movement, or Google, which fights censorship.
“Neither of those issues alienate people; they just enhance the brand of the company,” he says.
Still want to get involved with campaign fever this year? Picoult recommends silently donating to your candidate of choice. Another option: Encourage customers to participate in the political process by transforming your business into a voter registration center, offers Jucker.
She suggests, “I’d contact your local Women’s League of Voters, an organization that registers people to vote, and ask them to put up a table at your business for a few hours.”
Do you post campaign signs in your storefront windows? Sound off on this topic in the comments box below.
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