Imagine a moment that triggers more than 11 million video views at viral speed, making one store manager’s appalling decision a defining moment for your highly public business.
What would you say? What would you do? What path could you take to recovery?
This occurred at a Starbucks in Philadelphia on April 12th. Two black men arrived 10 minutes early for a business meeting planned with a third man. Two minutes later, the police were called and the two men were treated as trespassers because they had not made a purchase, yet asked to use the bathroom. About half dozen police can be seen in the video arresting them both, even though their business colleague, a white man, had now arrived for the meeting and was incredulous that this was happening. The video requires no interpretation as the events I describe happen quickly and clearly on camera.
To those watching social media, and that’s most of us these days, horrific scenes of prejudice and racial bias abound, from corporate mistreatment of customers, to nasty bystanders racially harassing people of many ethnic backgrounds, and law enforcement officials initiating brutal, even deadly prejudice. The daily coarsening of life has escalated, with no end in sight.
Yet this incident leads me down a positive path. Why? Because of what happened next.
Given this instance, why in the world would I consider a TMD Marketing Mastery Award for those involved in a racial bias incident?
Let me frame it, perhaps unconventionally, this way; and assert that this example of marketing mastery was practiced by all parties to the incident, not just one side or the other.
These four steps amply fit my definition of marketing as High Performance Communication that initiates conversations for an exchange of value!
- These men were trying to conduct a business meeting at Starbucks. So many small business owners, solopreneurs, and aspiring start-up ventures do exactly this, at every Starbucks, everyday. Such meetings are one of two pillars of success for this huge chain. While the story manager obviously had no understanding of this, Starbucks senior executive did, and their mea culpas were swift and refreshingly free of self-justification.
- The three men involved behaved in an admirably professional manner, though they were mistreated by the manager who precipitated the incident, and by police who did nothing to de-escalate the incident. Serious recognition is due to the two men who showed the kind of maturity that characterizes most people who are in business for themselves. Small business is always full of challenge, and they clearly demonstrated the strengths they will need along the way.
- The two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, gave further evidence of mastery in handling the red hot media attention aimed their way. Their GMA interview a few days later showcased their character. They put the big picture in focus, concerned for others beyond themselves, and were notably generous in working with their attorney to establish a constructive, empowering dialog. Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson were equally generous with Philadelphia in settling for $1 each to compensate them directly, and accepting funding of $200,000 to help young entrepreneurs in the city. They accepted the Starbucks offer to fund their own undergraduate college degrees through its online degree program normally open only to employees. There was also a private financial settlement with Starbucks, again handled without public rancor, and with “continued listening and dialogue” according to Starbucks.
- Starbucks took the initiative to address the larger issues at hand by committing to close 8,000 stores on May 29th to begin work on an internal cultural shift in their business philosophy that includes listening, dialog, and education. This demonstrates a willingness to continue on the path well after the media kinda lost interest, and had turned its klieg light glare elsewhere. The program is transparently highlighted on the Starbucks website, headlined “The Third Place: Our Commitment, Renewed.”
- Most public of all, Starbucks has revised and clarified its store policies to underscore its responsibilities to serve the public as a whole. They say it this way:
“This was a foundational step in renewing Starbucks as a place where ALL people feel welcome. Starbucks partners shared life experiences, heard from others, listened to experts on bias and racial anxiety, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us can work together to create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong.”