NEWS: Coming round to a social conscience

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.

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

gets across.



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.



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