When people get fired up about a company, what effect does it have? It is just symbolic or does it result in meaningful change?
Let’s go way back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In a scary parallel to the recent cruise ship tragedy off the coast of Italy, you had a captain who was negligent in the case of the Valdez and caused one of the worst oil spills in history. In the aftermath, there was a big movement to boycott Exxon, but it had no effect on sales at all. This was back in the pre-Internet days.
More recently, in the aftermath of the BP problem in the Gulf of Mexico, people resolved never to buy gas from them again. Today, as best as I can tell, that effort too had no lasting impact on sales.
So often we get fired up, but it all seems to amount to sound and fury essentially signaling nothing. Yet you never quite know how it plays. Take Bank of America.
When Bank of America came up with the $5 fee for using a debit card, people reacted far beyond expectations. The number of account closures spiked by 20% and there was a real decline in money on deposit at Bank of America.
CEO Brian Moynihan recently admitted in an earnings conference call that the closures impacted them and so they made the decision to reverse course and cut their losses. I think Bank of America is to be commended for that.
But the interesting thing is that you never know what exactly causes the groundswell, what causes people to not only say but actually do something.
The Internet creates a new channel, a new way to organize and a new way to fire people up. But what you don’t know is what thing will fire people up enough that a company or government has to change course or direction.