Last month, the outcome of the U.S. presidential election stunned the world. Donald Trump defied the odds to win a comfortable victory in the Electoral College, if not the popular vote. It was an outcome few analysts and pundits had predicted, even those in the Trump campaign. Most polls had Hillary Clinton comfortably winning, with the notable exception of the Los Angeles Times survey, with its longitudinal sample and 0-100 preference scale.
Adding to the surprise were the unlikely nature of the Trump candidacy, his unorthodox campaign style, controversial proposals, and inflammatory tone. While about a fifth of the country might have been celebrating the next day (the percentage of total Americans who voted for Trump), many of the remaining 80% were in shock, fear and mourning.
Many of these affected, 54%, are teens and college-aged Millennials. They have taken to social media to air their concerns, and some have even taken to the streets, organizing protests in cities across the country. For many, these concerns are very real and specific. Women worry about maintaining their reproductive rights established under Roe v. Wade and Obamacare.
The LGBT community worries that marriage equality and job, housing and hate-crime protections might be stripped away. “Dreamers” and others who are undocumented or have undocumented relatives worry that they could be deported and their families broken up. And many people of all backgrounds are deeply concerned about the rise of white nationalism concurrent with (and contributing to) the Trump campaign and victory.
This isn’t a column to litigate these concerns; the fact that they’re real and deeply felt among teens makes them real for brands. Companies that employ and market to teens and Millennials need to know that many of their stakeholders are hurting, in fear and coping with unprecedented uncertainty right now. Brands need to provide a forum to hear and address these concerns, and can do so as follows:
Encourage teens to vent safely in your discussion forums and social media feeds. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions about what’s on their minds, what’s keeping them up at night and what’s concerning them. Now that 2016 is almost (mercifully) over, probe the highlights and lowlights of this year, and their fondest hopes and darkest fears of the year ahead. Listen without judgment or concerns over feasibility and practicality. Keep trolls at bay, and maintain a two-way dialogue that starts with actively listening to employees and customers.
Emphasize your inclusive employment and marketing practices. While some policies (such as immigration) are strictly under federal purview, many are not. Clearly communicate that regardless of politics or the party controlling Washington, your brand promotes a diverse and inclusive workplace, and embraces customers of all backgrounds. Programs to support equal opportunity, full representation and mentoring for women, immigrants, people of color and the LGBT community need to be strengthened, not dismantled, and will serve as not only a moral imperative for your brand, but a strategic advantage. It’s critical to both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”; one reinforces the other.
Provide solutions wherever possible. For example, many teens might have strongly supported Democrats’ plans to make college more affordable, and might be concerned that a Trump administration won’t address this issue. Communicate your educational benefits to team members and customers, and consider expanding them, à la Starbucks’ “free college for all.” President Obama’s expanded overtime protections might be rolled back, so reassure workers that your company will maintain them, regardless of federal law. Many are concerned about Trump’s commitment to addressing climate change, so pledge to continue green practices to further reduce your brand’s carbon footprint. In an era where federal government will probably be less responsive to social concerns, brands need to assume this mantle.
We’re in unchartered territory under President-elect Trump, but now more than ever, respect, compassion and empathy need to carry the day. May these be at the heart of the holiday season, and the new year ahead.