Organizational Identity, Employee Branding and Political Contributions: Should you care if The Body Shop leans Republican?

by cv harquail on October 27, 2008

The Body Shop is Republican? Anita Roddick must be rolling over in her grave. donkey elephant

Released last week were the results of a study that shows how organizations have supported the Republican and Democratic parties. The data include direct corporate support (through Political Action Committees) and/or the support of these organizations’ employees (through individual donations). You can check our the data at GoodGuide.com.

As I scanned the dynamic graphic that shows where organizations fall on the spectrum from Democratic to Republican, there are a number of completely predictable placements. No one would be surprised to see Dreamworks Entertainment firmly in the Democratic column, or Cracker Barrel in the Republican column.

However, could somebody please explain —

What’s The Body Shop doing over with the Republicans?

body shop logo

If the Body Shop stands for sustainability, fair trade , and defending human rights, what does it mean to say that it supports the Republican Party?

Another surprise? Whole Foods is almost as Republican (45%) as it is Democratic (55%).

This data on political contributions suggest that some organizations lean one way, while our beliefs about who they are (e.g., their corporate images, their organizational identities) lean the other way.

Contradictions Suggest Inauthenticity

Where the political leanings of an organization are different from what their identity suggests, we are getting a contradictory message. What we’d infer from the organization’s behavior does not support what we believed about the identity, because the brands of the products and/or the identity of the company ‘say’ one thing while the organization’s behavior says another. These contradictions can confuse stakeholders.

When the messages are contradictory, we can expect Inauthenticity, so that:

  • Customers will be confused about what values their purchases are supporting.
  • Customers will be confused about what their purchases from this company are communicating. They will ask themselves "what am I telling other people about who I am by buying these products?
  • Current employees will wonder: Who is this organization I’m part of, really?
  • Current employees will wonder: What does being part of this organization say about me? How does it brand me?
  • Potential employees and potential business partners will be surprised, and maybe even turned off, if they were counting on the organization to share one set of values or the other.
  • Any stakeholder will wonder: Which matters more, politics or identity? Is politics or corporate image a better predictor of the organization’s actual values and priorities?
  • The organization itself will be confused about which of its values its customers are supporting, its employees are connecting through, and which should guide its future.
  • The organization’s cultural (value based) influence will be confusing.

Alignment suggests Authenticity

In contrast, where the political leanings of the organization and the organization’s identity are aligned, we would expect authenticity, so that:

  • Customers will be confident about what values their purchases are supporting.
  • Customers will be confident about what their purchases from this company are communicating.
  • Current employees will feel secure that they know what the organization values (whether or not they individually share these values), who the organization is, and how the organization will behave in the future.
  • Potential employees and potential business partners will be confident that they can count on the organization to act according to its values.
  • Any stakeholder will trust that the organization to be who it says it is and to act accordingly.
  • The organization itself will be clear about what it values, and how these values will direct its future actions.
  • The organization’s cultural influence will be focused and more effective.

Some important caveats:

Your ‘surprise’ mileage may vary. What I found surprising was the contrast between what I thought these organizations stood for (i.e., the brand, their image, their corporate values) and what their pattern of political contributions showed that they supported. If you have different beliefs about these organizations, based on your own knowledge of them, your reactions may vary.

donkey buttons GoodGuide is itself a "progressive" organization. "GoodGuide provides the world’s largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of the products in your home." GoodGuide is also a "for benefit" corporation (a B Corporation ). The political leanings of the data gathering organization do not necessarily influence the data collected, how the data are presented, and how the data are intended to be used… but neutrality and/or preference must be demonstrated, and not assumed.

The data is not all that solid. For some organizations, the actual amount of the contributions is meager, and for several it appears that only a few individuals’ contributions composed the whole assessment. (For example, some organization’s total contributions are $2,000 and $3,000.) And, I’d be more inclined to conclude that the organizations’ political leanings were displayed through PAC contributions (which are made by the organization itself). However, the quality of the data does not detract from the discussion of how contradictions between political contributions and organizational identity/image might affect perceptions of authenticity.

Action steps? Well, I think I either have to throw away my Peppermint Foot Scrub, or donate more money to the Democrats to compensate for buying a Republican product. And, at Whole Foods, I’ll just be ambivalent about the politics and continue to be annoyed by the prices.

Organizations need to be aware that their political contributions will brand them and influence how stakeholders feel about them. Organizations should consider whether their political contributions are aligned with their actual or desired identity, and make adjustments where they conflict. And, where there are conflicts, the organization should devote some energy to identifying its real values.

Go play with the data yourself, check out the results and see if anything surprises you. What do you make of this?

{ 1 comment }

Jodie Van Horn October 28, 2008 at 1:56 pm

I enjoyed reading this post; it nicely articulates the power of perception. When we, the consumers, are able to access comprehensive information about the companies we purchase from, we are better equipped to sift their actions from their words. While we may be surprised sometimes by the results, we are also free to determine for ourselves at what point these actions (or, say, the amount donated to a certain political party) stray too far from our personal values for the brand in question to retain our loyalty. Greater public access to this type of information empowers us to weigh what we know and encourage companies to align their marketing with their behavior. As an employee of GoodGuide, I am certainly not neutral on this assertion. But as a consumer of these brands, I’m not neutral either.

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