Small businesses must weigh the risks and rewards of identity politics
The Biden administration is creating plenty of opportunities for small businesses this year. Thanks to the government’s multibillion-dollar stimulus packages, there are a plethora of grants, loans and financing options for restaurants, cinemas, retailers and other businesses affected by the pandemic. There are spending programs – both established and planned – for infrastructure and social services that could result in profitable government projects. There are tax credits, subsidized training, and assistance programs to help small businesses recover from the 2020 recession.
But thanks to Washington, there’s also something else that’s driving some small business growth this year: identity politics.
Think about it. If you want to exploit your breed, the environment couldn’t be better. So stand up, stand out, be proud, and identify yourself as a Black, Asian, Latino business owner or ‘person of color’. Go ahead, hang signs on your store windows, wear t-shirts that support your causes, and openly participate in running activities in your community. Intensify and support programs for minorities. Apply for grants for minorities. List your business on websites supporting your race. It’s your time.
Many smart business owners I know do this. They believe it’s good smart marketing for 2021. But if you don’t feel comfortable taking a stand on the race, don’t worry. There are other ways for business owners to take advantage of the identity policy to sell their products.
For example, if you prefer to make your sex a thing, why not? Women business owners are mobilizing for attention. Transgender entrepreneurs are now proud and loud, like many in the LGBT community. Favorite gender pronouns in email signatures say, “Hey, gender issues are important to me in case you are considering purchasing my products.” Yes, even sharing your favorite sex partner is no longer a taboo – it’s just good PR. So good for them.
The causes you identify with can also increase your income. Take, for example, the famous vegetarian restaurant chain in my hometown of Philadelphia, which not only decided to increase its minimum wage to $ 15 an hour for its workers, but also issued a press release inviting the around the world to congratulate them for doing so. Or the big companies that have issued statements expressing their opposition to Georgia’s voting rights bill. Or the thousands of small businesses that become “B-Corporations” to show the world that they are ethical and caring, supportive and inclusive, kind and caring.
Thanks to the political climate, you can defend many issues. There is paid family leave. Child care. Opposition to global warming. Women’s rights. Firearms rights. Abortion. Wear a mask. Legalization of marijuana. The list is lengthened increasingly. Pick a problem. Take a popular stance. Announce it to the world. Sell your items.
Which brings me to … me.
I have remained on the sidelines of this current era of political introspection. Maybe I should get on the train too. I am Jewish. It’s an ethnic group, right? Maybe I should go on Twitter and complain loudly about Henry Ford’s story of anti-Semitism and start a campaign to “cancel” Ford cars. Or remind people that Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was racist and maybe we should cancel that too. Considering our thousands of years of persecution, there is no end to the list of assaults on my people that I must defend.
If I do this, I’m sure to gain other Jews (and supporters) who agree with me, and maybe I could sell some of my products to them. But wait. There is a catch.
By playing on identity politics, am I not also potentially alienating my customers who drive Ford vehicles or love to read Shakespeare? Aren’t all those other business owners affected?
Maybe they know their numbers better than I do. Perhaps by choosing their side on a contentious issue in this hyper-politicized environment, they have calculated that the number of clients they will gain by spreading their opinions will outweigh the clients they will lose. It’s a big data world, so I guess all of these people have that kind of data at their disposal. I also suppose that by becoming publicly political on a thorny issue, they are taking into account the livelihoods of their employees and families if – because of their views – they lose so much business that they fall into disarray. find themselves going bankrupt.
They know it, don’t they? They must.
If they know all this, I tell them, good for them: marketing is marketing, so play on your strengths. As for me, unfortunately, I do not have this kind of data. And I care about the future of my business and the well-being of my employees and their families. So for now, I think I’ll just keep everything Jewish to myself.
Gene Marks is the founder of The Marks Group, a small business consulting firm. He appears frequently on CNBC, Fox Business, and MSNBC.