While everyone knows that the sophisticated internet has changed the way companies interact with customers, not everyone has figured out how companies should
be interacting with those customers.
In social media, engagement is the goal: retweets, likes, shares, comments, views, trending hashtags, etcetera, etcetera. Engagements are actually pretty easy to get, but they may not amount to much. Because in digital marketing, the holy grail is conversions: that’s someone’s online activity turns into a purchase.
Of these two goals, one means absolutely everything and the other means nothing. Guess which is which.
Too many brands are chasing engagements at the expense of conversions. Mismanaged brands are sacrificing their customers’ goodwill on the altar of virtue-signaling in an attempt to placate the impossible-to-please social justice warriors convinced that they are, in fact, God.
There are myriad examples. The NFL has tolerated insipid protests at the expense of their ratings. Playboy and Sports Illustrated gave their shrinking customer bases a transgender playmate and plus-size swimsuit models no one asked for. Doctor Who started giving sermons that 91 percent of critics love but 79 percent of their fans hate. Gillette gave us a condescending, finger-wagging video and their competitors a bunch of new clients. Brand ambassadors for Star Wars decided to attack the evil beta-males who buy Star Wars stuff, and now they don’t buy Star Wars stuff.
In the public sphere, the most delightful example of this failure was Canadian Prime Minster and virtue-signaler-in-chief Justin Trudeau’s embarrassing India trip last year, where he ended up alienating, oh, everybody.
The lesson is loud and clear: self-righteous trolls on the internet will attack you because that is what they do, but they won’t spend money on you. Companies will never win by catering to their critics at the expense of their customers. “Inclusiveness” is great, but “market segmentation” is better.
This phenomenon is extending to the investing world, where activist shareholders are trying to advance their social agenda with other people’s money — but not with their own of course, that would be silly! Some have been abusing their power to impose their pie-in-the-sky political agenda at the expense of retail investors’ retirement savings.
A company’s purpose is not to change the word or service leftist guilt; its purpose is to provide value to customers and shareholders.
Thankfully at least one company has started to realize this. American Outdoor Brands Corporation (AOBC) — the company which owns Smith and Wesson firearms — recently rejected a push to abandon its core mission.
In September, a small percentage of shareholders passed a resolution making various demands of AOBC. Initiated by proxy advisory firms Glass House and ISS, the resolution demanded that AOBC 1) monitor violent events where Smith & Wesson products are used, 2) prove the gunmaker is working to produce safer firearms and accessories, and 3) assess the risks to the gunmaker's reputation and financial well-being from gun violence in the U.S.
Last week, AOBC released a report that complied with these general directives, which found that sensationalized reports of gun violence do not damage their brand, and that its customer base is knowledgeable, law-abiding, and safe. Furthermore, AOBC called out this level of activism as incompatible with its mission of providing value to customers and shareholders:
"the Company wishes to make clear at the outset that any investment in the firearms industry carries with it the ultimate risk that opponents of the right of private citizens to own firearms may succeed in imposing restrictions or an outright ban on private gun ownership. In fact, the Resolution was the result of groups committed to increased gun control, admittedly pursuing their objectives through shareholder activism."
AOBC — a gun manufacturer — rejected the idea of joining the anti-gun crowd. This decision is by no means brilliant, but it’s certainly refreshing in a world where companies think the way to expand their brands is to alienate their customers.
A broader discussion of gun safety can certainly be had, but AOBC supports the Second Amendment as one of its guiding principles, and the company’s shareholders should agree if they expect any constructive engagement. Moreover, any contemporary discussion has to be mindful of things like Brazil’s decision to expand gun freedom to reduce street crime and Maryland’s disastrous “red flag” law which has already killed one man.
AOBC’s role in this discussion isn’t to join their opposition. Their job is to provide their customers with safe products while helping defend the right to own those products. Smart gun technology will certainly help contribute to gun safety, but the technology is neither reliable nor viable at this time — and the people who will make it reliable and viable are companies like AOBC. If they stay financially solvent, they’ll have the research dollars to develop the smart guns of the future. We won’t see that kind of advancement from the anti-gun crowd. We’ll see it from the experts.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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