Mixed messaging can alienate customers and lead to crisis

Woman on mobile

Integrated messaging is more than having matching boilerplates on the company website and Facebook page. True integration means your company’s messaging, values and personality align across all brand platforms, including culture and the actions of leaders.

I have come across several social media advertisements promoting face masks, only to find all stock is sold out each time I click on the link.

While this mixed messaging may not cause major harm, it leads to frustration and mistrust from potential customers. I am very unlikely to click on another ad that I see from these brands.

Ensuring what a company is saying externally – for example on social media – matches what the company is doing operationally and ethically – such as having stock available – is one of the fundamentals of reputation management.

Heightened by the context of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, we have seen mixed messaging causing significant reputational impact.

In June, fashion brand Zimmerman joined the countless companies who posted on Instagram supporting #BlackLivesMatter, while its (leaked) uniform policy discriminated against people of colour. The inconsistency between words and actions resulted in harsh public backlash, including a former intern making claims of racist behaviour.

Zimmerman product photo
Zimmerman social post

Above images: Zimmermann’s policy has been criticised for making it difficult for black employees to wear their hair naturally, contradicting its public support of #BlackLivesMatter. Zimmermann’s public support of #BlackLivesMatter on Instagram

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been both criticised and praised for his messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of clarity over the framing of the proposed extension to Victoria’s state of emergency created confusion, with many worried that stage four restrictions would continue for another 12 months.

But there has been a deliberate and consistent tone throughout all of Andrews’ communications, which has been so distinctive that an entire Facebook group was created racking up more than 20,000 followers to ‘meme the way he talks’. The ‘four reasons’ for which Victorians are permitted to leave home have been preached by the government, demonstrating the value of repetition and simplicity in messaging.

Four reasons to go out poster

While they do not need to be verbatim, messages written on your company’s brochure need to align with the way a receptionist answers the phone, how the company is described in a media release, the LinkedIn descriptions of your employees and the annual report you may think nobody reads.

More than that, messages are most powerful when they are succinct and authentic. During a crisis, the same principles apply.

In our e-book Surviving Crisis, we share guidance on how to ensure messaging is meaningful when faced with scrutiny, setting the tone for crisis recovery. Among the tips are accuracy of information, demonstrating emotion and acknowledging fault.

Breaking almost all of these was the former chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, Jayson Westbury, in his response to a negative media report on A Current Affair.

During an industry webinar, he said “Tracy Grimshaw needs to be given a firm uppercut or a slap across the face, and I mean that virtually, of course”, which was later followed by a half-hearted apology for his “very poor choice of words” and, soon after, his resignation.

In a crisis situation, brand values are more important than ever.

Australian toilet paper manufacturer Who Gives a Crap has an established, consistent and integrated brand story and messaging. This shone during the panic buying brought about from COVID-19.

Having reported a 1000% increase in sales, it donated $5.85 million of its pandemic profits to sanitation charities; an apt move for a brand with a key message of being ‘great for the world’.

Who gives a crap toilet paper

In order for messages to be integrated, they need to stem from action. This requires all departments to work together and involving the communications team in the decision-making process of business activity.

– Article by Amanda Cirillo, Senior Account Manager

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