Freedom Of Speech Isn’t Free

One of my pet peeves is when people say they are going to “go off the chain” and then say the most mind-numbingly banal claptrap.  They tell you that they “have no filter” and yet what they write lacks bite or substance.  I see this all the time and I think it is one of the lamest marketing tactics going around.

I’m a pretty blunt person by default, but I know that in some instances, I need to tune that bluntness down.  The reason is simple, freedom of speech isn’t free – it comes at a cost.

I’m not talking about in a Thomas Jefferson kind of way, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” or anything quite so dramatic.  I mean that if you’re going to speak your mind entirely and without holding back, that freedom comes at a cost – there will be people that don’t like you.

A couple days back I wrote one of these posts where I talked a little bit about politics and the current state of play in the United States.  I wasn’t stating an opinion as so much as I was pointing out some interesting perspectives as it relates to business.

Some people HATED that email and post.   I mean they despised it.  It got me a bunch of email list unsubscribes and some really vitriolic comments from people as they left.

The truth is, I knew that was going to happen.

First of all, there really wasn’t much opinion in there.  I was talking about persuasion and how the Trump campaign had it dialled in with respect to targeting the swing voters they needed to win to get the decision.  I talked about how the Clinton campaign made the mistake of preaching to the choir.

Both of those things were entirely true, that’s not opinion, that’s analysis,

Secondly, I was expecting those unsubscribes and the angry emails.  You can’t write about politics without offending someone even if there’s nothing to be offended about.  I knew what was coming and I was prepared to pay the price because I think that email was really instructional and quite good value.

It was worth it for me to lose some subscribers for sending that email.

The thing is though, as business owners we need to be pretty savvy about how we state opinions and the conversations we get involved in, particularly online.  The price of speaking your mind can get pretty expensive.  There was the case of the CEO of GrubHub who had a bit of tantrum in an email to staff after the election telling people who voted for Trump that they should quit.  He got smashed from all sides afterwards and had to backtrack – I would suggest that his tenure with the company isn’t going to be a long one.

You often hear people talk about the value of being polarising.  I find that to be an entirely fascinating position when it comes to your business because it turns off so many people that could potentially be customers.  The kneejerk response is, “Well, those people aren’t my ideal customers”.

To me, that’s lazy marketing and extreme narcissism.  These people can’t differentiate themselves from their products and are actually quite weak and lacking in confidence in their position because they need the adoration of the mob to make them feel better about what they say they believe.

More importantly, if your product is good and can help people or solve a problem, why do you want to cut out large swathes of potential customers (and beneficiaries of your product) by being offensive to them?  That makes absolutely no sense.

I’m not suggesting you need to sanitise everything you say to ensure that you don’t offend anyone – I hate that stuff.  What I am saying though is that you should understand that speaking your mind can come at a cost, so be prepared to pay it if you feel strongly enough to wear that risk and don’t be one of those clowns who tries to be controversial for the sake of it because you’ll just end up looking like a “try hard”.

Leave a Comment