That marketing-led organisations need to have a social conscience is not
a new idea to readers of Marketing. In the past we have vigorously
supported the idea that slick communications are no substitute for
behaving the way consumers would like us to. Not necessarily in the
green-tinged sense of The Body Shop, but through the thousands of acts
of common courtesy which make life more bearable: owning up to mistakes
and trying to put them right; putting the pavement back the way you
found it when you started digging; supporting good causes which appeal
to your customers; and doing nothing to damage the wellbeing of present
and future consumers.
Some, like Shell, are more aware than ever of the power of consumers to
hit back if they feel a large company isn’t playing fair. Others, like
British Gas, have been saved by a monopoly position from the full wrath
of disgruntled customers - a force which will become much more powerful
as competition is introduced.
Even trying one’s best to do good is not enough. For beleaguered
marketers in high-profile firms, the threat from single-issue pressure
groups means it’s more important than ever to make sure the good news
Shell’s problems with the Brent Spar oil platform were caused by a
failure to compete effectively with huge eco-propaganda machines, even
when, as we later discovered, Shell’s disposal method was probably the
least environmentally harmful and more practical than anything
Greenpeace could suggest.
There’s a need for companies to trumpet their achievements in areas
other than profit and loss. It’s not an area in which British companies
have traditionally excelled - indeed, the timing of some of last year’s
announcements about executive pay could hardly have been worse.
Yet lately there’s evidence that all the companies we’ve named are
changing. British Gas is, as we reported, looking for a senior marketer
to transform its image. Shell has hired Raoul Pinnell, with a similar
mission. And BT’s latest corporate advertising is focusing less on
technology and more on good citizenship.
These are all good initiatives, but they depend on the good citizenship
message becoming reality at all levels, not just in the boardroom and at
charity concerts. That means excellent internal marketing - and here
again, there are signs of improvement. Of the companies which sent
delegates to this year’s Marketing Forum, 40% have internal marketing
departments and 70% claim to be committed to communicating effectively
with their workforces.