The election season is in full swing, and voters are hanging on every last word of their favorite candidate. As Democrats and Republicans pick from the politicians vying for the nomination, they’re becoming fiercely loyal to their candidate of choice. Even when these figures “flip-flop” on issues, backtracking on previously-made statements, they maintain popularity. In the business world, such inconsistency would lead to reduced consumer trust. In politics, however, staying true to one clear message just isn’t that important. Voters are eager to believe whatever their candidate of choice tells them.
For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has always claimed the Bridgegate scandal is not a big deal. Recently, some have called for the legal committee on the Bridgegate scandal to reconvene. This comes amidst allegations that the investigation into Bridgegate was fixed since the law firm selected for it has personal ties to Governor Christie. The investigation also appears to have been less-than-thorough, as notes from 70 interviews were omitted from the official case report. However, Governor Christie remains in the top six contenders for the Republican nomination.
This isn’t unique to Republicans. Democrat Bernie Sanders recently made statements backing an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private servers for emails she sent while Secretary of State. This may have violated State Department protocols, and now constitutes a major scandal. Sanders has famously shied away from making political remarks about it — until recently. However, fans of the Vermont Senator are unlikely to cry foul on this inconsistency. They trust Sanders and are likely to believe whatever he tells them.
On the other hand, corporations face high consumer skepticism. They must work to maintain trust with their most loyal followers year after year, and brand inconsistency is a major drawback. The strongest brands are those that can handle the inevitable flip-flops in their actions. Even the most steadfast companies eventually run into a situation that may make them appear hypocritical. In these cases, a good public relations strategy is essential.
Many of the world’s most popular brands have built themselves on consistency. Johnson and Johnson, which was founded in the 19th century, markets itself as dependable in its commitment to consumers. This consistency has allowed J&J to bounce back from even the harshest of situations. In one infamous incident, bottles of the bestselling product, Tylenol, were tampered with on the shelves of stores in Chicago. This led to a number of deaths — and could have been the end of the Tylenol brand. But Johnson and Johnson’s PR decisions reflected the company’s consumer-first attitude and helped Tylenol bounce back.
Apple has always branded itself as an innovative tech company. While their ads from the 1980s market very different products than they sell today, the message is the same: Apple is the company of the future. By contrast, Apple’s leading competitor Microsoft has struggled with its image. Microsoft is caught between appealing to older users and wanting to appear as cutting edge as Apple. As a result, it lost in consumer popularity, and its brand identity is not as strong.
Politicians can often flip-flop, but PR strategists know in most arenas, that simply won’t work. Unless something changes, it’s always safest for companies to stay on message. Consumer trust is not the same thing as political loyalty and building it takes a lot of time and work. Politicians may set good examples for some things, but usually not image consistency.