Everyone growing up in L.A. had their favorite bodega. These corner markets sold everything from cigarettes to candy, milk to mops. But, they served a much bigger role than just a place to buy stuff. Bodegas were often the cornerstone of the local community, where neighbors could go to meet and share gossip. More times than I’ll admit it was the bodega owner, not my parents, who knew when I was cutting class. You grew up with the bodega, turning to the man behind the counter for sage advice.
This month, a couple ex-Googlers found out first hand just how important bodegas are to a local community. They also set an example of what happens when you forget to engage stakeholders.
Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan run Bodega, a startup with the mission of making the corner bodega obsolete. They want to replace the stores with smart, self-serve vending machines, latching onto the automated future most are already terrified of. The machines would learn what purchases are most popular in a certain area and then place refill orders accordingly. Over time, the out-of-touch duo wants to make sure nobody has to go 100 feet without one of their machines around.
The problem? McDonald and Rajan forgot outside Silicon Valley there are still actual people roaming the streets. In a time where most of the U.S. is gentrifying, with cookie-cutter high-rises popping up everywhere, community is more important than ever. Sure, these guys may not have been raised in a community with a bodega. They may not have known just how important the bodega is to people. Had they done proper research, had they found a way to engage community stakeholders, I can guarantee their mission would have evolved into something much different.
As communication’s professionals, it’s critical we remember to engage stakeholders at all levels. Whether that’s internal staff and management, or external stakeholders like civil society, customers, and government, their opinions matter most. Yet, we so often take a patronizing approach where we think we know best. For anyone developing a program, campaign, or strategy this is most surely the kiss of death.
As NYC Twitter user Leon sums up, “if you replace my bodegas with a f—ing box I will launch you into the sun.”
Forget stakeholders at your peril.