Friday, May 20, 2022

What Brands, Companies and Leaders Do That Encourage Buycotts and Boycotts: Social Justice and Marketing Part 4

In the prior blog post in this series, we discussed how corporate social justice stands are not significant drivers of net-positive or -negative consumer purchases (buycotts) or boycotts. In this final blog post of this series, we will explore what corporate and brand activity tended to attract consumer attention and alter purchasing behavior.

It is interesting to note that, in many ways, all of your corporate social justice activities attract attention from consumers. We studied thirteen activities that brands, companies, leaders and employees do that cause consumers to notice and then buycott or boycott. All thirteen activities were selected by between 7% and 10% of U.S. consumers as reasons for buycott purchases, and all thirteen were chosen by between 5% and 9% of respondents as the cause of their boycotts. No one activity was conspicuously more powerful (or weaker) than the others. In short, everything you say and do matters.

Once again, I cannot share all of our data, which is available exclusively to Gartner clients. But I can reveal what activity drove the most buycott purchases and which drove the most boycotting:
  • An advertisement from the company or brand was the top answer for what dove “buycott” purchases. One in ten consumers cited advertising as to why they purchased from a brand in support of its social justice stand. Interestingly, ads were the lowest driver of buycott purchases among Gen Zers but the highest among Gen Xers and Boomers.
  • Brand’s political contributions to candidates or parties were the top driver of consumer boycotts. Overall, 9% of respondents cited this as their top reason for abandoning a brand from which they previously purchased.
To learn more about the one corporate social or political activity that drove both buycott and boycott actions and what it means for brands and marketers, please read my complete article on the Gartner blog. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Corporate Social Justice Has Little to No Net Impact on Consumer Purchases: Social Justice and Marketing Part 3

In the prior blog post in this series, we explored how Gartner sought to overcome flawed research on corporate social justice with its own proprietary study. We started not by asking whether people would or wouldn't purchase from brands that took a stand on social or political issues. Instead, asked consumers to name brands they had already buycotted or boycotted due to their corporate social stands.

We found very little difference between the percentage of U.S. consumers who said they bought, or "buycotted," (18.7%) and those that said they stopped buying, or boycotted (19.2%). This data may, at first, seem surprising given the number of studies that have suggested consumers have a strong preference for brands that take action. But because we studied these divisive issues from a balanced perspective, asking about stands on both sides of the issue, it is perhaps not surprising that we’d find equal numbers of buycotters and boycotters.

To find how corporate justice stands drive consumer purchases, we need to examine each stand individually. Our study allows us to compare the number of U.S. consumers who made buycott purchases as a result of a brand’s social or political actions versus the number who stopped buying and boycotted the brand for the same reason. I can't convey all of the data from this study since we must reserve it for Gartner clients, but I can share the two corporate social justice stands that drove the most net-positive and net-negative purchase behavior:
  • The biggest social justice driver of net-positive purchases was an anti-racist stand that denounces discrimination against people of color. Overall, 6% of US consumers in our study had purchased from brands because of this stand, while 2.3% boycotted for the same reason. Brands taking anti-racist stands enjoyed a four-point net positive impact of buycotters over boycotters.
  • The biggest driver of net-negative purchases was corporate support for former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Overall, 5.6% of US consumers boycotted a brand for supporting Trump, his administration, or the GOP; conversely, 3.5% of respondents purchased from brands due to this support. Overall, brands perceived as supporting Trump and the GOP saw a two-point net decrease in purchasers with more boycotters and buycotters.
If you wish to see more, including a word cloud of the brands cited by buycotters and boycotters, please continue reading on my Gartner blog. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

How Gartner Produced Groundbreaking Research on Consumer Purchases and Corporate Social Justice Activities: Social Justice and Marketing Part 2

 In part 1 of this series, we explored how marketers feel increasing demands from consumers, leaders and other stakeholders to bring social justice topics into their marketing communications. We also discussed how many studies conducted on this topic are flawed and may exaggerate the need for action. So, what did Gartner do differently? 

In 2021, we conducted studies of U.S. consumers that we hoped would provide our marketing and communications clients with original and distinctive insights. We conducted this research as part of Gartner’s Fellows program, which is designed to identify and sponsor high-impact thought leadership that keeps Gartner on the cutting edge of research and advisory insights.

To avoid the issues discussed in the prior post (social desirability biases and the impact of topic polarity), we conducted our research in a way unlike other research on consumer preference and corporate social justice: 

We first asked consumers to name brands they had purchased or had stopped purchasing from because of a stand on a social issue. Our approach required consumers to identify brands where they knowingly changed their purchase habits due to brands’ social justice activities. By focusing on past purchase decisions, we sought to minimize social desirability bias and were able to identify two nonexclusive groups of consumers: “buycotters,” who purchased brands because they took a stand on political or social issues, and boycotters, who stopped buying from a brand over their social or political stands.

We then asked buycotters and boycotters what brand communications and activities drove their change in purchase habits. Rather than focus on issues, we sought to understand the stands that brands took that increased or decreased purchases. Since these issues are so polarizing, we provided a balanced series of answers that permitted consumers on either side of these contentious issues to pick a positive answer aligned with their values and choices (see below). 

A list of answers Gartner used to study both sides of issues, such as "An anti-racist stance that denounces discrimination against people of color" and "A stance that focusing on specific racial or ethnic groups at the expense of others is unfair or harmful"

If you continue reading this post on my Gartner blog, you'll learn what percentage of U.S. consumers reported buycotting or boycotting a brand for reasons related to corporate social or political activities. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

What’s Wrong with Research on Consumer Preference on Corporate Social Justice? Social Justice and Marketing Part 1

Photo by Corey Young on Unsplash
Marketers face a growing demand for their brands to have a voice on contentious social justice issues. As a result, marketers must navigate challenging questions of consumer expectations, stakeholder demands and brand health in an era of corporate social justice. There is no commonly understood definition, but corporate social justice encompasses the organizational values, attitudes and behaviors that contribute to the fair, equitable treatment of all stakeholders within and outside the organization.

Pressure has been rising for marketers and brands to “take a stand.” Some marketers have done so with decidedly mixed results for their brands. We’ve seen Nike bring social justice into its advertising and succeed, while Pepsi faced quick and considerable backlash when it leveraged social justice topics in its advertising.

We explored US consumers’ purchase decisions, both positively and negatively, about brands taking (or not taking) stands on today’s most contentious social justice issues. Before diving into the data, it’s important to note that, regardless of if and how corporate social justice drives customer preference, there are many reasons why your organization should embrace social justice issues.

Gartner researches the topic of social justice from many different perspectives, and we’ve found that embracing social justice issues can improve your culture and help you attract and retain talent. For example, 60% of employees reported improved engagement among peers after witnessing employer involvement in societal issues. And 68% of employees would consider quitting their current job and working with an organization with a stronger viewpoint on the social issues that matter most to them. But with the growing call for marketers to bring social causes into their brand voice, we felt it was essential to study how corporate social justice affects consumer purchases.

Why study this when so many studies of corporate social justice (and related topics like corporate social responsibility) are readily available? We evaluated studies of corporate social justice – many produced by agencies and consultants who wish to earn business helping brands become more active in these topics – and found they are flawed for two reasons. To learn these reasons, please continue reading this post on my Gartner blog.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Good and Bad of Going Viral

I posted something last week that went viral. I thought I'd take the time to share some personal observations about what happens when something you create catches fire, albeit briefly, on social media.

First, a bit about my post: It was a somewhat sarcastic (but I hope thoughtful) post poking fun at the leaders complaining about employee retention. We've heard the claim repeatedly throughout the pandemic that "no one wants to work," and it annoys me because too many employers have enacted policies and actions that diminish employee satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement. I hoped to make the point that people do, in fact, want to work. (Okay, sure, we all wish we were independently wealthy, but most people I know want to remain productive and contribute--they'd just like to do it in better, more rewarding jobs working for more appreciative bosses.)

When I posted, I expected a few likes and comments. Instead, it blew up quickly. My LinkedIn post is approaching 1 million views. People are sharing this on Reddit, and it was briefly the top item on the Reddit home page with more than 120,000 upvotes. The version I tweeted has received 33,000 impressions, and people have posted LinkedIn screencaps dozens of times. And on TikTok, a labor union account posted a video acting out my post as a script.

This isn't the first time I've had something go viral (but it is probably the most widespread.) At first, there comes some sense of pride for posting something others find worthwhile. But it's interesting to note how the context of your words changes as your content becomes others' content. For example:

- ๐™„ ๐™ฌ๐™ค๐™ง๐™ง๐™ž๐™š๐™™ ๐™–๐™—๐™ค๐™ช๐™ฉ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ง๐™š๐™–๐™˜๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ค๐™ฃ ๐™–๐™ฉ ๐™ฌ๐™ค๐™ง๐™ : I immediately grew concerned about the reaction of my leaders at work. I focus on customer experience, not labor practices (although the two are not mutually exclusive, by any means.) And I am not anti-business; in fact, I'm very pro-business. I focus on CX because I believe in win-wins--companies can have practices that enrich customers, and customers will reward them with greater loyalty and advocacy. And I feel the same about employment practices--companies win when they treat their human resources like actual resources and not interchangeable and disposable parts. Still, to have a snarky post poking fun at employers get this much attention made me uneasy.

- ๐™„ ๐™ฌ๐™–๐™จ ๐™ฌ๐™ค๐™ง๐™ง๐™ž๐™š๐™™ ๐™ฅ๐™š๐™ค๐™ฅ๐™ก๐™š ๐™ฌ๐™ค๐™ช๐™ก๐™™ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™  ๐™„ ๐™ฌ๐™–๐™จ ๐™จ๐™ฅ๐™š๐™–๐™ ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™–๐™—๐™ค๐™ช๐™ฉ ๐™ข๐™ฎ ๐™ค๐™ฌ๐™ฃ ๐™š๐™ข๐™ฅ๐™ก๐™ค๐™ฎ๐™š๐™ง: If a few hundred people had seen the post, it might not have occurred to me that many might think I was subtly subtweeting about my own employer. But, as this quickly amassed hundreds of thousands of views, that risk became apparent. If you know me, you know I'm far happier than most with my situation at Gartner. Sure, I have a few gripes like anyone, but I consider myself lucky to be doing what I do and working where I am with the peers on my team. But, some will draw the wrong conclusion when they see this one post and not other things I may post (including occasional praise for Gartner).

- ๐™„๐™ฉ ๐™™๐™ž๐™™ ๐™ง๐™–๐™ž๐™จ๐™š ๐™˜๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™˜๐™š๐™ง๐™ฃ๐™จ ๐™–๐™ฉ ๐™ฌ๐™ค๐™ง๐™ : As it turns out, my post going viral did raise some concerns at work, but they have been a bit different than I feared. My employer is in the process of communicating our merit increases for this year. I have not yet received my information, but someone asked my boss if I had gotten my info and was so unhappy it inspired the post. (This is why more conservative people don't tweet or post publicly, but I am who I am, so I will continue to share my perceptions and thoughts openly.)

- ๐™„๐™ฉ'๐™จ ๐™ฃ๐™ค๐™ฉ ๐™–๐™—๐™ค๐™ช๐™ฉ ๐™ข๐™š ๐™—๐™ช๐™ฉ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™˜๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ: Several people have seen my post shared widely and told me, "you're famous." After almost 15 years of professional involvement in social media, I am well aware that my words are famous and I am not. More than a million people saw this--and today, if you asked them who posted it, almost none could tell you. It's healthy to separate yourself from your content and not think all of this is about you. It's not.

- ๐™๐™๐™š ๐™˜๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ ๐™—๐™š๐™˜๐™ค๐™ข๐™š๐™จ ๐™ฎ๐™ค๐™ช: Another thing that occurs is that this one thing people see about you becomes you. What I mean by that is that many now assume I'm a labor activist--people have urged me to become a moderator on the r/antiwork subreddit (I ignored the suggestion), a labor blogger asked me for an interview (I declined), and a whole bunch of labor activists and accounts now follow me. Yes, I post about inequity, urge better customer- and employee-oriented practices, and am quite progressive in my support for fairer policies for lower-paid and middle-class citizens. But, I am not a labor activist by any stretch of the imagination. So, my future posts may disappoint some of my new followers, and if so, so be it!

- ๐™‚๐™ค๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ซ๐™ž๐™ง๐™–๐™ก ๐™ž๐™จ ๐™– ๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ข๐™š๐™จ๐™ช๐™˜๐™ : Your content going viral is a bit rewarding, but the time it requires is difficult. I've had to sift through over 500 new connection requests on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I have received thousands of replies, comments, and criticisms, and I can't get to them all. I'm tempted to say I shouldn't even try to get to them all except 1) it's good social media practice to acknowledge some of the praise and answer the questions you receive, and 2) I do need to be aware of possible risks that could arise. For example, no one has yet replied by suggesting my employer must be one that fits my negative description, but if they do, I want to know it and respond quickly to share my belief that Gartner is a good employer. All of that means you can't simply tune out. I've spent lunch hours, evening and weekend hours, and some work time monitoring the buzz, and I'm glad it's dying down now (three days later).

- ๐™€๐™ซ๐™š๐™ง๐™ฎ๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™š ๐™ฌ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™จ ๐™ฉ๐™ค ๐™—๐™š ๐™ฎ๐™ค๐™ช๐™ง ๐™›๐™ง๐™ž๐™š๐™ฃ๐™™: Finally, I am surprised how many people assume you'll want to make a mutual connection based on a single piece of content. As I noted, I've gotten hundreds of connection requests in recent days. Fifteen years ago, I might've accepted all the requests. Today, I'm declining the vast majority of them. On Facebook, I very rarely accept "friend" requests from people I don't know. On LinkedIn, I am no LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) who follows anyone and everyone. In fact, as a former social media researcher and leader, I advise people against that, urging others to keep their networks limited to people they know, can learn from (or can educate), and who will share content relevant to their professional interests. I invite people to ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ me on social media if they wish, but I will not accept ๐˜ฃ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ญ ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฒ๐˜ถ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ด if we don't know each other or share evident interests.

So, that's what happens when you go viral. People think you're famous. You hear from many acquaintances with whom you've not connected in a while. You get a sense of pride--and concern. And it tosses a wrench into your time management for a few days. Some good, some bad.

Knowing all this, I would still post what I did again. And I intend to keep doing what I do--posting about CX, business practices, and other relevant topics in which I hope to engage and learn from others and influence thought.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Being Customer-Centric (Probably) Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

In my experience, there is no term less understood than "customer-centric." Real customer-centricity is challenging to achieve, demands consideration of priorities, goals, and policies, and requires leaders to model behaviors. Fake customer centricity takes many forms.

Being customer-centric doesn't mean getting to know your customers so you can do a better job of targeting promotions, acquiring leads, improving acquisition, lowering service costs, or lifting sales. Yes, better customer insight can deliver all those things, but those are not customer-centric goals.

The actual definition isn't that hard to decipher--it's hiding in plain view. The Cambridge Dictionary tells us "-centric" means:
"Having a particular type of person, place, or thing as your most important interest; seen from the point of view of a particular type of person, place, or thing."

Organizations and leaders who wave the customer-centricity flag consistently make customer-hostile decisions because they fail to put the customer as their most important interest, nor do they measure success from the customer's point of view.

Are you and your organization customer-centric? Do you:
  • Prioritize lasting customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy equally with short-term sales and profit?
  • Approve projects that deliver long-term improvements to customer relationships as quickly and frequently as you do with short-term ROI?
  • Evaluate and measure investments against how it improves your customers' lives or business as much as your margin, costs, or marketing ROI?
  • Reward, praise, and promote employees who improve customer outcomes as often as those who deliver company-centric results?
  • Analyze your customer data to find the verifiable connection between your existing customers' satisfaction or perception and their lifetime value to your organization?
  • Measure loyalty as much through leading attitudinal measures of customer intent as through lagging indicators of customer purchase behavior?
  • Seek to constantly improve your customers' Voice of the Customer feedback and not merely beat your competitors' scores?
  • Make decisions and build strategies based on needs- or values-based personas and not just demographic- or value-based segments?
  • Listen for and resolve the barriers your employees face that prevent them from offering customer-centric products, services, and experiences?

Most companies make profit their goal, and they focus obsessively on anything to maximize it as quickly as possible. Others recognize that profit is the outcome of consistent and pervasive customer-centric decisions that improve customer experience, build lasting loyalty, and yield bilateral high-value relationships.

Being customer-centric isn't a strategy, a project, a mindset, or someone's job. Being customer-centric--really customer-centric--must be reflected in your corporate culture, values, decisions, priorities, goals, rewards, measures, and the daily activities of your employee.

The next time someone tells you their organization is customer-centric, give some thought to whether they mean "we study customers to extract as much revenue and profit as possible" or "we understand customers so we can deliver what they want and need, improve their lives, and encourage strong and lasting bonds."

Friday, January 7, 2022

Setting Targets For Your Marketing KPIs Can Destroy Them As KPIs. Here's What To Do About It...

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash
I wish I'd been taught Goodhart's Law when I was in school. In fact, I wish everyone was taught Goodhart's law. Understanding this axiom would improve the way we lead and measure any discipline, but it's crucial for those seeking to improve marketing and customer experience. Goodhart's law is:
"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure"
(Actually, that's the simplified version. Since the adage comes out of economics, it is stated in a more scientific and fancy way: "Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes." Clearly, simpler is better.)

The point is that once we make one of our KPIs a goal for measuring success, we can quickly and inadvertently destroy the value of the KPI as a measure of success. If that sounds counterintuitive, let's explore three real-world examples:

Setting targets for social media likes and followers destroyed the value of social media likes and followers

In the early days of social media, brands providing the best experience and earning the most significant loyalty also collected the most likes and followers. Had brands merely competed for authentic likes and followers by providing the best customer experience, then tallies of their followers and likes could've remained a valuable sign of affinity, loyalty, and interest. Instead, marketing departments set targets to increase followers and likes, each wanting more than the competition. As a result, marketers deployed strategies to deliver on the goal, such as giving away free product, Farmville items, and entries into sweepstakes in return for follows and likes. Targets were achieved, but those strategies annihilated likes and followers as a valid measure of, well, anything. And it isn't just that brands ruined the value of those social metric metrics; the brands that bought fans with freebies also found they collected less meaningful fans--not people interested in or with an affinity for the brand, but people who just wanted free stuff. Likes soared, engagement plunged, and no one benefited. Social media marketers ignored Goodhart's Law and learned the hard way that how we earned fans and likes mattered more than that we improved our fan and like measures.

How you increase your email subscriber list affects if your efforts help or hurt your brand

Email helps us reach our customers with lower cost and less interference than ads and social media posts, so marketers naturally want as many subscribers as possible. But, once we set targets for more extensive email lists, we inspire list-building activities that deliver on the goal while doing nothing for (or harming) our marketing objectives. Buying lists, giving rewards for subscribers, and automatically adding customers to mailing lists without consent efficiently produce larger lists, but they also encourage lower open rates, diminished deliverability, customer annoyance, and spam reports. By setting a target, we encourage strategies to hit the goal without proper consideration for whether those strategies do more to help or harm overall marketing objectives. We cannot celebrate that we added addresses to our email list without also understanding how we achieved that target.

Decreasing your Cost of Acquisition is not beneficial if acquisition strategies also decrease the lifetime value of customers acquired

One of the most critical metrics in the marketing world is also subject to Goodhart's Law. Of course, marketers want to reduce their cost of acquisition. But when we set this as a goal, what sorts of behaviors and tactics do we encourage? A credit card company found that many acquisition strategies were, inadvertently or not, designed to collect people who game the system, switching from one credit card to the next merely to collect as many points and perks as possible. The cost of acquiring these customers was meager compared to acquiring affluent customers more likely to remain loyal and deliver higher lifetime value. When the brand made the right offer with a competitive promise of free points, the network of blogs and communities dedicated to points gamers would spread the word and deliver clicks and conversions. Without considering who we acquire, we miss that how we lower the cost of acquisition is more important than that we lower that measure.

This list could go on and on. Net promoter score (NPS) can be abused by altering surveys and sample rules. Ad cost per impression can be reduced by using cheaper, lower-quality ad buys. A bank that set new accounts as a target encouraged illegal activity to open accounts for customers who didn't want them. An automaker targeting lower emissions manipulated its testing to show emissions 40x lower than real-world driving conditions. Even bottom-line profit itself is subject to Goodhart's law--how many accounting scandals have we seen where company leaders altered bookkeeping to give the appearance of a higher margin (and thus receive more generous bonuses)? There is literally no measurement for which you can set a target that cannot be controlled, abused, or sabotaged, whether purposefully or unintentionally.

To read the complete blog post and see the five actions recommended to improve the way you set and measure targets that matter, please read the complete post on