Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum - Do consumers care about company ownership?

John Lewis and The Co-op are highlighting the fact that they are owned by their staff. But does having a stake in a business improve customer service, and do consumers care who holds the shares?

ADAM LEIGH, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, THE COMMUNICATIONS AGENCY

NO. Consumers really don't care about the profit-share opportunities of the person serving them. We are a nation of self-obsessed cynics and all we really care about is what price we are paying and the level of service we are receiving.

Communicating service initiatives with clear consumer benefits is much more effective. When Tesco announced that it would open another till if queues were getting too long, it did not link this fact to the workforce pulling together in the quest for improved performance. It is what staff do that is important, not the reasons behind their actions. Collective corporate ownership is laudable, but it is not a relevant communication strategy.

CHRISTIAN CULL, DIRECTOR OF CUSTOMER COMMUNICATIONS, BSKYB

MAYBE. If you can show that ownership plays a part in motivating service, then do so. But consumers must see what's in it for them. Value is key.

Whoever owns the key to the retail door, you're only as good as your customers' experience. In that sense, every workforce holds the power, because they own the experience.

Consumers own the brand, though, and they need to know they made the right choice. Their experience must be authentic. If it is enhanced because the people serving them are inspired to give their all in 'their own shop', then by all means celebrate that. But brands succeed if they can motivate staff to take pride in what they do, regardless of ownership.

SALLY COWDRY, MARKETING DIRECTOR, O2 UK

YES. Consumers care about a company's organisation and its social and ethical track record, and they care about the quality of the service they receive.

Putting employees in marketing campaigns isn't new, and it's meaningless unless it is underpinned by genuine concern for people's welfare.

Employees who are partners are, by definition, committed, with a genuine interest in looking after the customers.

Only an engaged and motivated workforce that puts customers' needs first generates true customer loyalty.

RICHARD PIERSON, HEAD OF NEW BUSINESS, BARTLE BOGLE HEGARTY

NO. But it is more pertinent to ask what effect promoting your ownership structure has on the business.

Although it is true that consumers may not put company structure at the top of their most-wanted list, they care about customer service. All retailers need their staff to live and breathe the brand; the more enthused they are about it, the better. A campaign that focuses on staff ownership can only help them love the brand more.

Staff pride is even more important when there is a recession approaching. Retailers will need to use every trick at their disposal to hit their targets.

I think this a smart strategy in the current economic climate.

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