A Union Boycott Campaign

The Proper Target
and the Appropriate Message

In order to put pressure on an unreasonable employer, the labour movement often invites the public to boycott a company's product, service or to stop patronizing a particular store. The typical union boycott generally appeals to the public's sense of understanding and solidarity with the legitimate concerns of the union's members.

Although this approach touches a responsive chord with some socially-conscious citizens, I would suggest that a successful union boycott must also attempt to convince the prospective customers that it is in their own interest not to buy the boycotted product or service, or not to shop at the boycotted outlet.

I would argue that prior to issuing a call to boycott, it would be most worthwhile to undertake a meticulous study of the employer's product, service or outlet, their customers (particularly the "heavy users"), their positioning strategy, their distribution system, their advertising and promotion strategies, their price structure, their marketing strengths and weaknesses, their competition and all the other relevant market information.

A detailed written strategic plan could then be drawn up by a union marketing consultant, like myself, and submitted to the union executive for approval.

In this manner, the union's boycott message would speak to the correct segment, addressing their needs and perceptions, deal with the precise benefits that are ascribed to the boycotted product, service or outlet and not only condemn the employers unreasonableness.

Marketers and Boycotters
Two Sides of the Same Coin

When a company wants to "increase" their market share, marketing consultants or their own marketing department get into high gear to establish carefully formulated marketing programs to achieve their goals. Now, when a labour union is in conflict with the same company, and aims to "decrease" the company's market share, as a pressure tactic, marketing consultants should also be called upon to do essentially the same background analyses and studies, and to elaborate similarly structured strategic plans, having obviously a diametrically opposite objective.

To be successful, both the company "marketer" and the union "boycotter" must fully understand the competitive marketing environment in which the company's product, service or outlet exists, as well as all the other pertinent market information.

For Example

Suppose the targeted store to be boycotted distributes circulars the first Wednesday of every month in working class areas, boasting the lowest prices in town on certain types of merchandise. Would it not be worthwhile to organize the strikers to distribute circulars in the same area, on the same day, indicating examples of competing stores offering lower prices on similar merchandise. In other words, the union's boycott message must attempt to address the consumers' needs (inexpensive merchandise) and not merely denounce the employers unreasonableness at the bargaining table.

Labour unions must first identify the subtle positioning strategies of the targeted companies products, services or outlets as well as the characteristics of their markets, so as to develop effective contrary or interfering messages and tactics. A union boycott campaign must speak to the proper target segment and address the benefits that the company ascribes to its product or service.

Again, if the product to be boycotted is used by women over 45 in agricultural communities, they are the ones to be addressed. Similarly, if the product is positioned as being the safest, the boycotter's message should not be that it is the most expensive, but should rather address the question of safety.

Please continue reading on about Marketing and boycotts, as well as union organization or membership participation campaigns; or Allen Gottheil's detailed explanation of marketing's relevancy to unions, his answers to some  FAQ's; and union clients in the marketing domain, other union clients; and finally his work experience and education, or return to the introduction on the first page.

If you have any comments, suggestions, brickbats or bouquets ...
Or, If your union organization is planning a major campaign ...
Please do drop a line to: Allen Gottheil: allengottheil@sympatico.ca

copyright © Allen Gottheil, 1999
Montreal, Canada
Tel: (514) 481-7270