When Politics Divide, Brands Focus On Unity


Throughout modern history, CEO’s largely avoided politics. President Donald Trump's polarizing point of view on the violence in Charlottesville abruptly changed that. CEO’s aren't compensated to use their positions as a personal soapbox or a political pulpit. As chief executive of a public company, the CEO is the primary steward of a company's brand. Wall Street has shown us that when a company’s leader doesn’t act in accordance with their brand’s values, investors and customers defect. Past events reveal that many CEO’s feel they can’t risk associating with the President’s comments and unpopular points of view. As the controversy surrounding President Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville tragedy escalated, many high-profile corporate chiefs turned their backs on him to protect their companies’ brands. Amid growing talk of consumer boycotts and shareholder uprisings, leaders of companies like Campbell’s Soup, 3M, Under Armor, Merck, Intel, and others pulled out of the President’s business councils to distance themselves from values that don’t align with their own. Additionally, many of these departing corporate leaders took an opportunity to separate their organizations’ brand agendas from the President’s politics by publicly denouncing his behavior and aligning their own brands with values of inclusion, diversity, and sustainability.

Companies like Discover Financial, Visa, Mastercard, and Cloudfare scrambled to protect themselves from the threat of potential damage stemming from business relationships with alt-right hate groups. For instance, Discover Card announced in August it ended merchant agreements with extremist organizations that incite violence. Within the same day, dozens of companies providing payment processing, hosting, and other services followed suit. Even online dating site OKCupid banned a known white supremacist from its community, explaining on Twitter that “…a place to find love is no place for hate.”

A brand is a conceptual construct that has enduring value. Some of that value extends beyond goodwill and recognition. A brand’s value can show up in the company’s balance sheet. Organizations can’t afford to screw up their brands by associating with people and causes that don’t match their customers’ core values. This is true not only of commercial brands, but non-profits as well. As of the close of business Friday, six well-known non-profit organizations, including The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced they were pulling out of contracts to host high-profile fundraising events at President Trump’s luxurious Mar-a-Lago Resort.

In an official statement, the American Red Cross said it canceled its bookings because the President's property has “become a source of controversy and pain for many of our volunteers, employees and supporters.” On the subject of canceling their annual gala, The American Cancer Society explained, “Our values and commitment to diversity are critical as we work to address the impact of cancer in every community. It has become increasingly clear that the challenge to those values is outweighing other business considerations.” These sentiments underscore how delicate a brand’s relationship is with its customers and supporters.

Savvy brands understand they don’t just represent what the organizations behind them do; their brands unite their supporters around a shared set of values. They understand that their brands are made up of their purpose, their values, and their people, including their customers, employees, and even the other organizations with which they do business.

But in the same way that associations with a political issue can damage a brand, positive associations and open declarations of its values can accelerate a brand’s growth and customer loyalty. For example, before Charlottesville events, the Tiki Brand was relatively unknown. Most consumers knew Tiki torches as an accessory for backyard barbeques but didn’t necessarily associate the product with an overarching brand with its own set of beliefs and values. But when hundreds of people espousing white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and Klux Klux Klan ideology marched across the University of Virginia campus spewing racist taunts illuminated by Tiki torches, the brand was unintentionally bestowed with negative associations. In an effort to prevent damage to their brand via social media posts bearing the hashtag #TikiTorchNazis, Tiki turned immediately to social media to overtly disassociate its brand from these groups and their racist agendas.

Their swift, public denouncement of the protesters and their message earned them the recognition and adoration of tens of thousands of new fans and, conceivably, new customers. As a result, the Tiki brand is now top of mind for exponentially more people than it’s ever been.

The previously unknown 70-person Wisconsin company that makes Tiki torches received an unexpected boost and may forever be known as “one of the good guys.” With the rise of the activist consumer, it’s nearly impossible for brands to avoid the polarizing political issues of the moment. Expressions of anger or support of social and political issues through consumer activism, boycotts, and hashtag politicking are emblematic of the complex relationship between brands and their customers’ personal values. They are also a reminder that a brand’s true owners are its customers.

Since the beginning of the Trump presidency, it has seemed that brands are more inclined than ever to speak out on social and political issues. It’s as if corporate leaders recognize that we are so divided as a nation that consumers want to know if they are buying “red or blue.” While millions of consumers headed to social media this week to openly share their disdain for President Trump, very few brands mentioned the President by name. That’s because they understand, while it’s important for their brands to communicate that they value inclusion and diversity, it can be dangerous for them to play character politics.

Photo Courtesy of NYMag

The strongest brands in the world transcend their products and marketing campaigns to create enduring relationships with their customers. They elevate their customers’ self-concepts and make them heroes in their own life stories. They align with their customers’ values. They stand up for what they believe. Those companies tend to perform better financially in the long run by forging strong bonds with their customers through their purpose and shared values. When all is right with the world, brands enjoy the benefits of those bonds. But when brands find themselves on the wrong side of politics they risk alienating portions of their customer bases. The lesson in this for brands is that they need to proceed with caution when they take a position.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."