All’s Fair in Love, War, and Business — Addressing a Competitor’s Bold Moves

It’s no coincidence that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, announced that his platform would ban political ads less than an hour before Facebook’s much-anticipated Q3 earnings call. It wasn’t the first time that a competitor made a business decision that forced a company to either follow suit or defend its position.

It’s no coincidence that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, announced that his platform would ban political ads less than an hour before Facebook’s much-anticipated third-quarter earnings call. While this is a business decision, and Dorsey will forgo revenue as a result, his move had a broad-reaching marketing impact; especially given the timing.

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t typically do well in the hot seat; however, he stood behind his policy, saying, “I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians and the news.”

I can only speculate, but it’s likely that Zuckerberg, his legal, marketing, PR, and investor relations teams held an eleventh-hour strategy session to prep and align on Facebook’s response ahead of the earnings call, and for the coming days.

Companies on the Defensive

It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that a competitor made a business decision that forced a company to either follow suit or defend its alternate position.

In early October, Charles Schwab made a surprising announcement that it would eliminate commission fees on online stock, ETF, and options trades. Hours later, TD Ameritrade announced it would also reduce fees to zero. E-Trade did the same the following day.

All is fair in love, war, and business. When a competitor makes a bold move, business leaders must make tough decisions that have major ramifications — financial, moral, ethical, and otherwise. In order to address the competition’s news, a strategic marketing response is required.

Marketing and Communications Readiness to Counter the Competition

Whether or not your company plans to follow a competitor’s lead or chart your own path, marketing and communications readiness will ensure you communicate effectively with customers, prospects, and the general public surrounding the matter.

Close Alignment With Leadership

A response to the competition’s news is more successful if marketing has a seat at the table with leaders as they make any related decision. The marketing team can be a sounding board on the reputational impact of the business decision and can help with the planning and strategy for the response to ensure the company’s position relative to the competition is clear.

Real-Time, Multichannel Response

Following Charles Schwab’s announcement, the companies who reduced their fees in step with Schwab needed to move quickly to retain their customers and ride the news wave. Again, alignment with leaders is crucial, because marketing teams can only move quickly with marketing efforts if they have access to stakeholders and decision-makers.

Digital channels allow for the quickest turnaround for marketing efforts and a variety of levers must be pulled simultaneously to have the greatest impact. This requires a collaborative approach across marketing, sales, client relationship management, and other teams.

Strong PR Foundation

Well ahead of these circumstances, it is important to have a solid PR foundation, including approved subject matter experts who have been vetted, prepped, and coached.

Additionally, PR teams should be continuously building media relationships before there’s even news to share. Then, when it is time to participate in a relevant dialogue, the reporter knows your company and will be more likely return calls or emails.

Reclaim the Competitive Advantage

There’s no way to anticipate every move your competitor will make. However, if you’re strategic and prepared, you can use your competitor’s news to your marketing advantage.

Why Everyone Benefits When Marketing and Privacy Are Aligned

Privacy is one of the most pressing issues facing organizations today. And it’s not just affecting the companies that are making headlines over it, like Facebook, Google, Capital One, and Experian.

Privacy is one of the most pressing issues facing organizations today. And it’s not just affecting the companies that are making headlines over it, like Facebook, Google, Capital One, and Experian. The recent passage of privacy laws in the United States and abroad, and the resulting potential fines for mistakes, have been a wake-up call for many. Marketing teams always needed to consider privacy but; now, it’s imperative, and there are significantly higher stakes (ahem…billions of dollars).

Noga Rosenthal, Chief Privacy Officer and General Counsel at NCC Media, believes that far too often, marketing and privacy may be unknowingly working against each other or in silos. However, it is essential for these two departments to be closely aligned.

She points out:

“Every company is a data company, whether or not they realize it. You have CRM data and employee data. You’re collecting data off your website. Nearly everybody will be impacted by legislation like CCPA [California Consumer Privacy Act] and needs to be paying attention.”

What’s at Stake

The stakes are high, and the risks are greater when there’s a disconnect between the marketing and communications teams and the privacy and legal teams. There are two common vulnerabilities:

1. Corporate marketing and advertising aren’t taking into account privacy when promoting products and services.

  • Corporate advertising is creepy to customers.
  • Your company is using new and trendy technology vendors that haven’t been properly vetted by privacy teams.
  • You’re using terminology in your marketing, like “tracking” and “anonymous,” that will draw scrutiny from lawmakers.

2. Marketing and communications teams aren’t involved in security and privacy breach preparedness and response.

  • Marketing and communications haven’t contributed to the company’s incident response plan.
  • Marketing is looped in too late during a breach and is not given the resources needed to respond to stakeholders and meet disclosure requirements.

Companies that falter can be subject to hefty fines. They could alienate their customers. And they’ll likely find themselves in the middle of a PR nightmare.

The Benefits of Collaboration

“Marketing should have a seat at the table in all things data governance. It’s mission-critical,” says Peg Kuman, Chief Privacy Officer of V12.

Bringing privacy and marketing together benefits everyone. If you’ve ever tried to read a privacy policy, you know that privacy and legal speak needs to be more accessible and consumer-friendly. Disclosures and policies written by privacy teams would surely benefit from a marketing and communications lens.

If marketers are more in tune with privacy, your company can protect its brand reputation and avoid the painful privacy missteps in advertising that we’ve seen with Netflix, Spotify, Tinder, and countless others. For companies that face an incident, collaboration can ensure a proper response, such as how Twitter recently owned up to its privacy mistakes, used consumer-friendly language and succinctly apologized.

Also, with an overall heightened interest in privacy, companies can provide value to clients and their customers by proactively sharing relevant and easy-to-understand privacy updates. A client outreach strategy can only be effective by coupling the expertise and knowledge of the privacy team with the creativity, strategy, and reach of the marketing team.

According to Rosenthal:

“At times, it feels like marketing and privacy are at odds with each other. But as privacy becomes more important to consumers, and companies like Apple use it as a way to bring in customers and differentiate from competitors, there’s more of a need to lean on each other.”

Where to Begin

There are several ways to open the lines of communication and foster a stronger partnership between privacy and marketing teams.

Establish a Cross-Functional Team

Don’t wait for something bad to happen to get closely aligned. Proactively create a team consisting of privacy, legal, marketing, and communications focused on cross-functional initiatives. Meet regularly to discuss legislation, strategize, and surface ideas.

Use these meetings as a forum for education and awareness. Like Kuman and Rosenthal, most privacy leaders are involved in industry organizations and coalitions. Through their participation, they get vital information that can help their marketing teams.

Commit to Privacy Principles

Privacy principles should align with the company’s mission, vision, and purpose. A great place to start is thinking about what trust and transparency mean for your industry and organization.

Once you’ve determined what privacy means for your organization, make sure it’s clear in everything you and your employees say and do. Better yet, put some marketing power behind those principles, so they become synonymous with your brand.

Prioritize Policies, Protocol, and Incident Response

Your privacy and marketing teams will need to jointly decide where to focus efforts across your various stakeholders including employees, clients, consumers, prospects, partners/vendors, the media, lawmakers, and investors.

There should be a clear protocol for how marketing and privacy work together, and all parties should understand the role that they play in protecting corporate reputation and respecting consumers.

If your organization doesn’t have a breach response strategy, privacy and marketing should champion the development of one, in conjunction with other parts of the organization, such as technology, information security, and client services. Simulation exercises are valuable ways to identify vulnerabilities and prepare without the intense pressure of an actual crisis.

Raise Awareness Through Education

Privacy is likely not top-of-mind for the majority of your marketing staff, but awareness is critical. Education increases awareness. Curriculum specific to marketing helps the full marketing organization understand their role in supporting the company’s privacy principles. Training can also address when it’s necessary to engage your privacy resources.

Kuman prefers the term “socialization” over training.

She adds:

“Companies should socialize the notion that privacy is how we protect our customer, employee, and business assets.”

Privacy Is Everyone’s Job

Regardless of where privacy laws are headed next in the United States and abroad, we all play a role in privacy protection and we’ll be more successful if we’re working closely together.