Call a spade a spade
There is a scene in the 1960s film The Time Machine where the hero is hurtling into the future at incredible speed – around him the sun rises and sets in a few seconds, fashions change from one minute to the next, and buildings fall into disrepair only to be quickly rebuilt.
It’s not a bad metaphor for the current business environment. Change is happening fast and it’s clear that for many companies, the challenge is to keep up. We live in a world where value is being built and destroyed at mindboggling speeds, shareholders are becoming more radicalised and consumers can pass judgement on a company and its brands in the blink of an eye.
Against this backdrop, companies are desperate to find ways to build stronger relationships with customers and stakeholders. Many are trying to do this by strengthening the link between their corporate and consumer brands. Companies like Apple and BMW have been doing this for some time – linking their company values directly to the products they produce.
The rub, of course, is that if corporate values are not seen to translate into tangible product features, then a degree of scepticism can enter the consumer’s mind. It’s one thing to extol the importance of innovation in everything you do and quite another to constantly deliver innovative products. The same can be said of broader corporate behaviour – companies are talking more about ethics and sustainability and linking these qualities explicitly with the way they do business and, of course, the way they want to be judged by the consumer.
We hear companies talk about the importance of building a dialogue with stakeholders, operating their businesses in a transparent way and doing their best to build trust. However, the latest results from Ipsos Global @dvisor research shows the size of the challenge they face – in only four of 24 countries surveyed did the majority of consumers feel that CEOs could be trusted to tell the truth.
Having said that, when organisations do get it right, something akin to corporate gold dust is produced – a sense of authenticity. In a world where people are wary of ‘corporate speak’ there is a strong desire for sincerity and calling a spade a spade. People are looking for signs of ‘sincerity of intent’ – a sense that an organisation is genuinely trying to deliver on the things it considers to be important, living up to the principles it communicates.
Many companies fail to realise that people don’t expect perfection, are wary of over-promising and are increasingly susceptible to ‘superlative fatigue’ from what they see as overly positive and unrealistic corporate messages.
Authenticity is not about pleasing everyone, and any company that thinks it is runs the risk of pleasing no-one. Its existence does not mean that a company will deliver the perfect product or service time and again, or that it is infallible in terms of corporate behaviour, but it does indicate a fundamental desire in the business to be the best it can be in these areas. And all of this translates into two of the greatest reputational assets a company can enjoy – a positive relationship between what you stand for and what you sell and being given the benefit of the doubt when times get tough.
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