This weekend was not-so-great for Starbucks. As a video of two young men who were racially-profiled and the victims of the abuse of power, bystanders – fans of Starbucks even – called for a boycott of the mass producer of lattes, fraps, and the likes.
Unlike with the Pepsi, Dove, and J. Crew scandals of racial insensitivity a blatant oblivion to racial snafus, I did not jump a bandwagon of being outraged at the company.
Reason 1: The decision was made by an individual, not per a company policy.
Starbucks is a highly distributed organization – meaning that there are Starbucks all of the world, let alone the U.S. This means that even if Starbucks, the organization, does everything right, they can’t control the individual decisions of its employees. They can only teach, correct, and provide disciplinary actions. And unlike decisions made by brand managers, stylists and others at the corporate level, the decision to call the police or even ask the people to leave doesn’t go through as much scrutiny and layers of approval as one that happens before producing an ad.
Reason 2: The behavior doesn’t fit their brand.
Do I feel like they do good job of targeting African Americans? Absolutely not. Do I believe they are blatant racists? No, once again. I’ve been a personal consumer and follower of Starbucks for years. This is a liberal company. (We’re talking about a company who has gone under fire for saying Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas in an effort to be inclusive.) Liberal and inclusive doesn’t track with blatant racism.
Reason 3: Years of communications experience.
I know everyone wanted an immediate apology. Having 10+ years of marketing and communications experience, I know it just doesn’t work like that; not if you want to do it right . Believe me when I say that apology was written about 900 million times then reviewed and edited by 900 million people. The release was timed…and the digital, PR, corp comms, etc. was all over it. It was not taken lightly at all. It was scrutinized because they knew that if they didn’t get it right, the “wrath” of black twitter and woke folk would’ve been much greater than it was this weekend.
Reason 4: HR is a full of all kinds of legalities.
You can’t just fire someone. HR is full of all kinds of legalities by itself. (investigations, reviewing the video, testimonies, etc. – Trust and believe, they had to cover their butt from the employee’s perspective too.) So while people are on the other side calling for the employee to be fired, organizations have to do their due diligence. Think about it. If you were accused of misbehavior, wouldn’t you like the organization to hear your side of the story and do their research before they pulled the trigger of letting you go? Organizations must give each employee the same level of respect. No matter how ridiculous this behavior was, the manager still was entitled to an investigation..
What every company can learn from this:
Lesson 1: Make sure your brand experience is a consistently positive one. As people reflect on the brand, this will help them validate or discredit what they’re encountering on the interwebs.
Lesson 2: Have a crisis management plan in place. Social media moves fast. You have to move just as fast. (And if you don’t someone performing social listening for your brand, get someone on that right away.