What to Do When the Marketplace Becomes a Woke/MAGA Food Fight

What to Do When the Marketplace Becomes a Woke/MAGA Food Fight

Customers increasingly want brands to take stands on social and political issues. Dev Patnaik writes in Forbes how companies can focus on developing the three pillars of strategy, culture, and leadership to connect with customers authentically.

We’re living in a time of intense cultural acrimony. And more and more companies are finding themselves caught in the scrum.

Bud Light suffered a 24% crash in sales after its promotion of a transgender influencer sparked a consumer boycott. Target saw $14 billion erased from its market cap after some customers were offended by the release of a “gender-fluid” Pride Collection and still others were enraged by its subsequent removal. After taking issue with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, Disney has found itself at war with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. Even Chik-fil-A, normally a darling of conservatives, has found itself the target of a boycott by right-wing activists over misinformation about its DEI initiatives.

The backlash to company marketing and HR decisions is spreading anxiety through boardrooms. Senior executives I’ve spoken with in recent days worry that they’re only one poorly judged campaign or social-media post away from being canceled – by either the right, the left, or both.

It can be tempting to just try and keep your head down and focus on selling stuff. Unfortunately, that won’t work. Consumers increasingly expect companies to state their values plainly so they can, in turn, vote with their pocketbooks. According to data from Sprout Social, 70% of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues. For their part, employees are demanding that companies hold true to their espoused values.

In this climate, even small miscalculations can cause enormous damage to revenues and reputation. So what can business leaders do? Focus on leadership, focus on strategy and focus on culture.

Leadership: Develop Your Talent

No one can say these are easy waters to navigate. Such a fraught cultural and political environment requires leaders who exhibit wisdom, not just intelligence. They need to balance the interests of customers, employees, shareholders and communities in search of win-win outcomes. That’s not something they’re all prepared for.

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Most companies are still stuck in 20th-century training models that focus on skills like delegation, and driving KPIs. Maybe they’ll throw in a Myers-Briggs personality assessment. They don’t produce the kind of leader who thrives in a highly ambiguous, complex environment.

Disney’s Bob Iger exemplifies the emotionally intelligent leader that companies need right now. But there’s no indication that Disney knows how to develop mini-Igers en masse. Look no further than the short-lived tenure of his successor, Bob Chapek, as proof.

Read full article on Forbes.

Dev Patnaik


Dev Patnaik is the CEO of Jump Associates, the leading independent strategy and innovation firm. He’s a board member of Conscious Capitalism. Dev has been a trusted advisor to CEOs at some of the world’s most admired companies, including Starbucks, Target, Nike, Universal and Virgin.