Image via TechCrunch/Flickr CC
The dynamics between customers and the businesses they frequent has always been immensely complex. Today, the Internet has only made this complexity more apparent, as customers have more choices and information at their fingertips than ever before. Loyalty has to be earned and kept, which isn’t always the easiest task.
In an increasingly polarized political climate, one interesting trend has been businesses taking their own stance on political issues. Some companies have no problem getting political. Back in 2015, the ruling on same-sex marriage legalization produced an outpouring of support from many companies on social media. However, not all companies are willing to make definitive statements, preferring to remain distanced from social issues. The executive order issued by President Trump to restrict visas in February is a good example of this. Some companies, like Netflix (NFLX)
It’s not surprising that many companies are cautious about political allegiance—they’re worried taking a stand one way or the other might scare off current or potential customers. Besides, the argument can be made that political affiliation doesn’t have much to do with a company’s day-to-day business, so what’s the point in getting involved?
Of course, it’s much more complex than that. Businesses and the people who run them aren’t separate entities in the eyes of consumers. Any political opinion given through the mouthpiece of a company reflects on that business in a positive or negative way, depending on the audience. With that in mind, can getting political affect a company’s bottom line?
A Telling Experiment
Instead of just speculating on how consumers react to businesses’ political involvement, researchers at Clemson University and Drexel University decided to get answers. They set up an experiment that involved participants first reading statements about the company, orienting themselves as values or results oriented. They then read articles about the business that described whether or not it had taken a stance on a political issue (gun control) before they were sent into the store to shop.
What they observed was very interesting. It wasn’t so important as to whether or not a company took a stand on a political issue as that they remained consistent to their image. Overall, 18% of shoppers made an impulse purchase. However, when a “values-based” business did not take a political stand, impulse purchases dropped from 24% to 9%, a drop that was assumed to be connected to the company’s image—a values-based business is expected to take a stand on issues. Furthermore, the opposite was true for the results-based business—it saw a drop in impulse purchases from 26% to 13% when it did take a political stand.
These findings show that customers are far more interested in brand consistency than in the particular message getting political sends. They don’t appreciate hypocrisy, but the act of getting political did not seem to be in and of itself harmful to the business’s success. Instead, customers are mostly interested in honesty and integrity from a company—they don’t want to feel like they’ve been duped or deceived.
Will Politics Make or Break?
In the end, the study by Clemson and Drexel, as well as the ongoing growth and success of many companies who have gotten political shows that staying neutral isn’t always the way to go, and that politics probably won’t make or break a business. Of course, some customers will make choices based on a company’s political affiliations, but most are concerned more about the overall consistency of a company’s communications.
Businesses have always played a role in politics and social issues, whether that means something as universally lauded as Coca-Cola (KO)