Captain America
In Captain America: Civil War, comic heroes confront their views of how their heroic acts should play in world events. PHOTO: Marvel

I enjoyed the airport scene in the Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War, watching the comic heroes confront their views of how their heroic acts should play in world events.

But if you imagine those heroes as marketing brands, you would have a good description of what is playing out among consumers this year.

The Impact of Polarizing People

Just like how the protagonists in the movie escalated the argument from civil discussion to confrontation, marketers are finding their brands being engulfed in a consumer affinity war — an association with polarizing figures can make or break customer allegiances.

What's worse is the arising conflicts have brought more consumer scrutiny with the potential to damage brands irrevocably.

Brands that allow the slightest hint of a political message can get a very public demerit.

The struggle arises in part from people adopting online behavior into their daily lives and consumers express their views on various brand activities from good sales experience to poor customer service. 

Consumer conflicts surrounding social issues have heightened awareness and responses among retailers and B2B firms alike.

The L.L.Bean Issue

L.L.Bean is the latest example. The retailer has been criticized because Linda Bean, company director and granddaughter of the founder, made a personal donation to a pro-Trump political action committee.  Activists demanded a boycott of the brand.  

The brand responded by positioning Linda Bean’s choice as a personal decision rather than the brand’s indication of support.

Brands are increasing vulnerable to social conflicts because social views are unexpectedly exposed in forums not original in a media plan. The result can be a twisted message context to customers. 

IHOP 'Hack'

The restaurant chain IHOP, for example, claimed to be hacked after having retweeted a political comment on its Twitter profile. The tweet stated Hillary Clinton lost because she had run a terrible campaign.

According to the Washington Times, Twitter users quickly captured a screenshot from the IHOP Twitter feed and shared reactions before IHOP was able to delete the tweet.

The problem of consumer affinity runs against long-standing tenets in marketing — to not upset customers and cause them to walk away.  

Consumers Challenge Unethical Businesses

The branding impact is significant. In 2015 eMarketer noted a Mintel and Lightspeed survey of internet users that discovered over half of respondents would stop engaging a business they deemed unethical. A third of survey responded indicated they would share with others.

Becoming aware of social issues is becoming increasing important part of savvy marketing. In my analytics workshops over the last few years, I have highlighted how cultural issues, from Black Lives Matter to the 2016 election, can be mentioned on social media where brands appear.  

I have also shown how brands have responded well and poorly to instances when cultural and news issues arise.

Overall, customer affinity toward a brand must be monitored — a major shift in marketing protocol and technique that may take some time to get right. 

Using Analytic Tools

Marketers can best keep abreast of that affinity with analytic tools.  Reports cannot answer every question, but savvy analysis can provide some basics ways to monitor potential issues and reveal where adjustments can be best made.  

There are two that stand out among the clearest places to start.

  • Regularly auditing referral traffic in analytic reports can reveal sites that were not part of a planned network of sites meant for a campaign. Many networks add third party sites where ads can be shown. This can mean your ad can become associated with objectionable content or even vulnerable to click fraud risk from a poor quality site.
  • Affinity reports provide another analytics audit point. These reports indicate which topics draw people to your site. Affinity reports can help indicate if the audience reflects the interests originally intended for your product or services (I explain how to use these reports in the post Linking Customer Personas to CX: Google Analytics Affinity Reports).

Affinity is become a key influence in maintaining a brand’s integrity. Monitor it over time, and see how far your brand’s integrity — along with earned customer loyalty — can be protected.