L.L. Bean: Maintaining Trust in Turbulent Times

Posted Wednesday, January 11, 2017 in Marketing by Patricia Seybold

Consumer trust in government institutions is at an all time low in the U.S.. Consumer concern over the economy and the environment remain heightened. As major cultural, political, and economic transitions are afoot on the national and global stage, many people are turning inward: focusing on their local communities, their family life--things over which they feel they have some control. And, consumers feel comforted when the brands they trust remain reliable, convenient, and caring, especially in turbulent times. Over the holidays, we had a family discussion about trusted brands and how comforting they are because we know they'll come through. Examples given by family members included insurance provider USAA, Amazon, and Apple.

LL Bean's PR Problem

Linda Bean

That's why many environmentally-conscious, liberal-minded consumers were shocked to discover that Linda Bean, one of the family members that owns the Maine iconic LL Bean retail dynasty, was not only an avid Trump supporter, but apparently broke federal law by donating too much to a Trump PAC. When the news hit on January 6th, many disappointed, and previously loyal customers began to boycott the brand. The group "Grab Your Wallet" -- which had emerged in October in response to the release of a tape of a lewd conversation between Trump and Billy Bush -- added L.L. Bean to its list of retailers to boycott if you don't like Trump's misogynist behavior and views. Thank goodness for the retailer, that this news didn't emerge during the prime holiday buying season!

Yet nothing about LL Bean's customer service or products had changed. And, the company did its best to respond to the allegations and move on:

"Shawn Gorman, executive chairman of the L.L. Bean board and great grandson of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean, posted a statement on Facebook late Sunday night saying he was 'deeply troubled' by the portrayal of the company and called the boycott campaign by Grab Your Wallet 'misguided.' He said L.L. Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters or make political contributions."

“'We fully acknowledge and respect that some may disagree with the political views of a single member of our 10-person board of directors,'” Gorman wrote. “'Like most large families, the more than 50 family member-owners of the business hold views and embrace causes across the political spectrum, just as our employees and customers do. And as every member of the family would agree, no individual alone speaks on behalf of the business or represents the values of the company that (Leon Leonwood Bean) built.'”

LL Bean's Headquarters Store in Freeport, Maine

Trump Tweet Worsens PR Nightmare

Just when the LL Bean marketing team thought they had doused the flames, Linda Bean appeared on TV in a Fox News interview, which apparently prompted this Tweet from Donald Trump:

Trump Tweet re Linda Bean

 What can you do when the President Elect trumpets your brand via Twitter? Hunker down and wait for the furor to subside. There's no PR spin that's going to help the brand at this point. The only thing that will work is to keep delivering a great customer experience and wait for disgruntled customers to come back.

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