When Can You Mix Politics and Business?

Date: May 02, 2013

Sharing your opinions publicly can backfire when customers disagree, but when a position supports your core business, it could make sense

Should small business owners avoid getting involved with politics or otherwise pushing political ideas, opinions, or agendas onto their customers?

As is often the case with such things, the typical answer to that question seems to be "it depends."

That certainly sums up the responses of Danny Clark, president of Mesa, Arizona-based ENSO Plastics, and Charles Gaudet II, founder of Predictable Profits in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

On the one hand, Gaudet says, "If I operate a toy store and I begin a strong campaign for a particular candidate due to his healthcare policies, this has no bearing on my ultimate result for doing business with you, will turn off a number of my customers—because there is likely a low correlation between my ideal customer and their view on healthcare—and will not help to position me as a leader in the toy industry."

On the other, he adds, "If I operated a green-energy business, becoming a champion for green energy would make sense in the eyes of my costomers and the impact it will have on their ultimate result."

Gaudet’s second remark is especially noteworthy when you consider that ENSO Plastics’ claim to fame is developing an additive for standard plastics that makes them recyclable and biodegradable.

Involvement Imperative

As for whether or not the company is politically inclined because of its environment-friendly product: Clark admits that he and his colleagues are "heavily involved" at the state, federal and even international level.

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"In the environmental arena, there are many companies and legislators making a run at legislation to promote their agendas," he explains. Due to that and ENSO Plastics’ mission to make real environmental changes, "we are finding that we have to get involved so that poor legislation isn’t passed."

That said, Clark shares that he "does not believe in using the legislative process to push business or other agendas. We have much too much legislation as it is, which has all kinds of negative results."

The reality, however, is that "businesses, non-governmental organizations, and other groups use politics and the legislative process to manipulate markets," he adds, which often forces small businesses like his to get involved, too.

Customers’ Champion

A small business’ decision to become politically involved or to push a political agenda onto its clients and customers should depend "on the target market of your business and whether or not there is a correlation between government policy and the results you help achieve for your clients," Gaudet says.

"You have to understand your target customer and the ultimate result they are after," he adds. "Customer loyalty is a byproduct of having loyalty to your customers and being a champion for their best interests."

As such, "if politics can help them achieve their ultimate result, those entrepreneurs who become a champion on their behalf will automatically position themselves as leaders in the industry."

RELATED: 6 Small Business Marketing Takeaways from the 2012 Election


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