Can Lowe's Win Muslim Customers Back?
You know by now that Lowe’s Home Improvement has pulled its advertising from TLC’s new reality show, “All-American Muslim.” As an expert in brand public relations and the Muslim consumer market, here are my thoughts:
What’s done is done. Even if Lowe’s would do it, I don’t see any point in its trying to reinstate its spots during the show. If you have a conviction, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, you might as well stick to it in cases like these. The damage is already done, and the best thing to do now is to move on and try to carefully rebuild a relationship with the American Muslim community, as well as many others who see pulling the ads as a bad PR move and out of touch with American values.
This controversy represents a teachable moment for other retailers and brands as they slowly, but surely, start to see the value in reaching America’s growing minority and multicultural consumer groups. This particular instance validates that not only are Muslim consumers important for what they buy, but they’re also important for what they don’t buy.
Carefully weigh your options before making a hasty decision. Big companies like Lowe’s are used to controversy and are the subject of boycotts and pressure from special interest groups every day. Though I can’t speak to how much thought went into the decision to pull the ads, one lesson here is to carefully consider the credibility of the individuals or companies doing the complaining in the first place. Often, we see a lot of noise from groups who aren’t even shoppers at the company in question. Corporate America must determine who of its diverse customer base may be affected by its decisions and what implications those may have.
It always disappoints me to see well-meaning companies get caught up in controversies and boycotts such as these, but in many cases they can be avoided with a little understanding. Had Lowe’s had a better understanding of the Muslim consumer market and been fully aware of the potential for backlash, its decision regarding advertising may have been entirely different.
So, does Lowe’s have any chance of winning back the Muslim community and how can this type of controversy be avoided by other companies? If Lowe’s were a client, here is what we would recommend to them (and others) for starters:
- Communicate with your customers and let them know that you sincerely regret having disappointed any individual or group, and value each of them. Keep reinforcing that message whenever possible.
- You no longer get a free pass by claiming ignorance! Get to know the American Muslim community – according to an Ogilvy Noor study, 86% of American Muslims believe that American companies “need to make more of an effort to understand Muslim values,” yet are largely ignored. Companies can no longer afford to ignore this significant and growing consumer segment of approximately seven million. Muslims have money to spend (around $33 billion on housing and housing services alone, according to DinarStandard) and, as evidenced by the rapid-fire response on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Muslim voices are worth paying attention to as they are influential and can drive a national conversation quickly and aggressively.
- Do what’s right. Understanding that companies are in business to make money, and they can’t please everyone, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. As U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., stated recently on the House floor, companies need to take care not to contribute to or even be perceived as “rubber-stamping basic foundational bigotry against a major American religious group.” It is also important for companies to be consistent. Just as we wouldn't tolerate anything deemed anti-Semitic or homophobic, we can't allow this type of xenophobia to be tolerated within corporate America.
- In an effort to do more than just pay lip-service, demonstrate by your actions that you are in fact a company that values diversity and welcomes customers of all faiths and lifestyles. Consider doing something good with the community in both the near- and long-term. For example, partner with Muslim groups around the country who are dedicated to socially responsible programs such as building homes for families in need or collaborate with initiatives that foster diversity and interfaith understanding.
- Lastly, create a crisis communications plan to have at your disposal. Having worked with clients during controversies, I’ve had the opportunity to implement our contingency plans and understand what a crucial tool those plans can be as they can enable companies to act quickly and effectively.
It may take Lowe’s a long time to clean up the mess it has made in its aisles with Muslims, but with the right approach, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the current outlook, Lowe’s now has a big opportunity to re-establish itself as a company that welcomes and values all customers, while trying to rebuild a relationship with the Muslim community.