Public policy can have a significant impact on emerging industries. When companies begin to offer products and services that haven’t existed before, there are often no laws that dictate where and how they can do business. New laws are sometimes proposed in a quickly-changing landscape that varies from state to state (and even city to city). Companies in emerging markets can find themselves at the whim of policymakers who might not understand their industry.
Grassroots advocacy gives companies a powerful tool to influence the decisions of those policymakers. Consumers aren’t just customers; they’re community members, influencers, constituents, and advocates. Uniting your customers gives them the ability to influence policy on your behalf in their local markets.
We recently hosted a webinar with Brian McGuigan, Senior Public Affairs Manager at Lyft, and Phil Minardi, Director of Policy Communications at Expedia (owner of HomeAway), to discuss why it’s important for industry disruptors to engage customers to become advocates and how this approach has led to legislative victories for them.
Customers are Constituents, Too
It’s important to look beyond your customers as just buyers or consumers. They’re also community members and constituents, and that means they wield power your company can harness. The power of consumer-level influencers is widely recognized as a marketing tool, but the rise of new types of businesses have highlighted their influence in the political sphere as well. Lawmakers care about their constituents’ opinions and values—and if enough of those constituents speak out, they can markedly affect legislation.
Companies that share their messages with these community influencers and other customers put themselves in a position to double their return. Not only are they getting marketing benefits from activating consumers, but they’re also getting legislative benefits from mobilizing constituents. This mobilization is especially important in emerging industries. “We find ourselves in a world where not much gets done at the federal level,” said Minardi. “A lot of the decision-making is pushed down to the states and the [cities].”
Businesses need to “ask what resources can you bring to bear, and can you responsibly engage and continue the conversation with the elected officials and customers.” McGuigan explained that, in Lyft’s case, those customers are both drivers and riders. In your own business, of course, you may have different subsets of customers that could be activated.
Customers Are Willing to Help
It’s easy to imagine that your consumers aren’t going to go out of their way to help your company. But in a market-driven economy, if your company is providing a much-needed product or service, your customers will want to fight for it.
Why are so many people willing to step up for the companies they support? Much of it has to do with relationships. “[The] master key to any policy is relationships,” said Minardi. “Recognize what relationships are important, which ones to invest time in, and how to correctly utilize them.” By engaging your customers in grassroots advocacy and maintaining the relationship, you develop a strong network of influencers and supporters that are loyal to your company. This has immense marketing value—but it also helps you create a group of advocates that are ready to fight for your business.
Customers Can Act Quickly
Companies need to be prepared for a long process of introducing legislation and working with lawmakers to get it passed. In the webinar, McGuigan referenced a bill that Lyft supported in Texas that took several sessions to get passed.
In other cases, fast action can be more fitting. For example, HomeAway is a company that sells short-term rental services. A city council pushed a last-minute vote banning these types of rentals. In the course of eight hours, HomeAway got its users to send 700 emails to the city council, and the huge outpouring convinced the lawmakers to delay the vote and seek more feedback from constituents. A traditional government relations team might not have had the same effect as hundreds of local citizens urging their representatives to listen to their concerns.
It’s not easy to get in touch with lawmakers in a meaningful way on short notice. But with grassroots advocacy tools, companies can immediately reach out to their customers with a call to action. With integrated email, social media, and calling options, these tools help customers contact legislators at an unprecedented speed. As HomeAway saw with the city council vote, timing can make all the difference.
Get Actionable Tips for Driving Public Policy Discussions
When public policy isn’t going in your favor, you may be tempted to marshal lawyers, lobbyists, and industry associations to your side. But activating consumers through grassroots advocacy campaigns can yield stronger results. Consumer advocates are highly motivated, hold sway with politicians, and can bring many perspectives to light on a particular issue. By forging bonds with your consumers through advocacy, you create a community of activists.
To hear more insights from Brian and Phil, check out the full webinar, “How to Successfully Drive Public Policy Discussions in Emerging Markets.” And be sure to share your thoughts—if you have experience in shaping public policy in emerging markets, we’d love to hear about it!
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