With more than eight out of ten consumers expecting brands to take a stand on political issues, there’s more pressure than ever for marketers to develop strategies to weigh in.
But as social media becomes the battleground for the most passionate conversations dominating our cultural landscape, brands sometimes face a difficult dilemma: ignore what’s important to consumers and risk criticism, or throw their two cents in and — you guessed it — risk criticism.
While chiming in on partisan issues has always been a dangerous move for brands (recall the major backlash Keurig experienced after pulling advertising from Sean Hannity’s program), even seemingly non-controversial topics can invite fury from unforgiving consumers on social media.
That was never more apparent than this past International Women’s Day, when more brands than ever embraced messages of gender equality to celebrate the holiday. Though celebrating International Women’s Day along with consumers might seem like an easy win, it can also get brands into trouble if it appears to be insincere. McDonald’s learned this lesson the hard way.
The massive McDonald’s flip flop
McDonald’s participated in National Women’s Day with a major publicity stunt: by flipping its iconic golden arches at a California location from an “m” to a “w” for women. Besides being a fairly obtuse gesture in the first place (especially since “m” stands for “McDonald’s,” not “man”), it quickly drew ire as a hypocritical move to capitalize on a holiday meant to empower women, not sell cheeseburgers.
Perhaps most frustrating about the
stunt is the ease in which McDonald’s could have avoided it. How? By actually listening to its customers.
Now more than ever, brands have direct visibility into the thoughts and feelings of their customers. In this case, McDonald’s had a treasure trove of unprompted, unbiased feedback, all easily accessible through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And if marketing leaders at McDonald’s were listening, they could have anticipated the backlash (which was perfectly summarized with this tweet) and chosen a different move.
Many of the issues plaguing McDonald’s brand reputation — from low wages, sexual misconduct mishandlings, unsatisfactory parental leave policies and more — have been long criticized on social media. If marketing leaders at McDonald’s wanted to make a real impact, they could have taken cues from what the company’s customers have already been saying.
Social media can be the most effective adviser
Of course, listening isn’t always easy. It’s one thing to scroll through a social media feed or a hashtag, and yet another to pull real, actionable insights from the voice of the customer on social media.
After all, the market is not a monolith. Especially in the case of a corporation like McDonald’s, there are as many voices as there as opinions (and in this case, some people were impressed with the arch flip). To use social media effectively, brands need data-based methods to analyze consumer sentiment and apply it to their marketing strategies. Otherwise, they’re just monitoring feeds and not actually listening.
To really listen, marketers need a strategic approach to make sense of the mountains of social content. By just monitoring rather than listening, marketers only make guesses about how consumers feel based on content that might not accurately reflect the majority of their audience — which leads to the social gaffes that critically damage brand reputation.
Had McDonald’s marketing leaders paid closer attention to social data, they could have suggested policy changes, announced corporate social responsibility
initiatives or taken other more effective tactics to honor International Women’s Day. Moves like these would likely have been well-received among the company’s customers.
With the right social listening strategies, marketers can better key into consumer sentiment. That way, they can craft messages and tell stories that excite and resonate with their customers, rather than turn them off.