Brands: if you want trust give trust


Brands and businesses always want to be trusted. But rarely do they trust their customers to understand how business works. This is why most organisations mission or values statements don’t include simple direct statements of what businesses are there, in part, to do which is make money. Businesses and corporations assume that we distrust them and therefore act defensively. In some cases, often the high profile ones, covered by the media, this default position of distrust is right but the vast majority of businesses, those that many of us work for, and employ our friends and family members, are full of good people trying to deliver well for their customers and make a fair profit in return, and money for themselves.

But most businesses, especially the big ones, are pathologically scared of saying anything that isn’t on message. And those messages are devoid of reality because they just don’t trust normal people to understand that running businesses is not easy, a balancing act and they have to make a return on their efforts. The cancer in these organisations are the public relations and corporate affairs departments that are obsessed with controlling the message, saying as little as possible, and where success is staying hidden.

In my experience most people are fair and reasonable. We understand that businesses need to make money, but we want them to give us good services and not exploit us for super-profitability. But most corporations treat us like we are cynical, conspiracy theorists or anti-business. And this has created a culture, especially in Britain, France and Germany, where making a profit is seen as inherently exploitative and almost immoral.

Witness John Petter from BT this morning (12th Feb 2010) on BBC Breakfast. Since BBC doesn’t replay Breakfast (can someone upload the interview to YouTube? YES ITS HERE) I’ll give a sense of the Tweets that were going round that summarise his performance:

jhemusinsignia: BT spokesman on BBC Breakfast was v.poor: why are people lacking the necessary skills put forward? Train them or use someone else
charlie74: BBC Breakfast presenter grilling the BT rep on TV… loved it
Tommy_Hill: Anyone else think the BT guy was seriously floundering on BBCBreakfast? “I don’t know if we’ll make money on it”.. Bulls**t
zenemu: #BT chap who was just on the BBC was a bit of a worm. BT are changing free evening calls from 6pm to 7. Odious little man from awful company
RAIPR: Wtchng John Petter, BT directr justify 7pm off-peak move on BBC. Nervy, defensive, dncng feet, looking away from cam, stuttering #fail
imogenfarr: Anyone see the BBC Breakfast interview with the squirming BTspokesperson? Blimey, he’d never have coped if he was interrogated by Paxman.



There is no doubt that his performance this morning was very poor but I suspect rather than being a consequence of not enough media training, it was caused by too much media training. Having been through several versions of this torture myself these sessions are focused on Corporate Affairs/Public Relations/Media people drilling you. “Don’t say this, say that”, “don’t answer questions directly” and most importantly don’t tell the truth. Don’t lie, don’t tell the truth, better to not say anything at all.

This goes right to the heart of the way that businesses present themselves currently. There is no longer a recognition, a trust, that we understand how businesses work. Read the mission and values of BT (taken from their website this morning):


Our vision

Our vision is to be dedicated to helping customers thrive in a changing world. The world we live in and the way we communicate are changing, and we believe in progress, growth and possibility. We want to help all our customers make their lives and businesses better with products and services that are tailored to their needs and easy to use.
This means getting ever closer to customers, understanding their lifestyles and their businesses, and establishing long-term relationships with them.
We’re passionate about customers and are working to meet the needs they have today and innovating to meet the needs they will have tomorrow.

Our values

Our corporate identity defines the kind of company we are now and the one we need to be in the future.
Central to that identity is a commitment to create ways to help customers thrive in a changing world. To do this we must live our brand values:
  • Trustworthy – we do what we say we will
  • Helpful – we work as one team
  • Inspiring – we create new possibilities
  • Straightforward – we make things clear
  • Heart – we believe in what we do
We are committed to contributing positively to society and to a sustainable future. This is part of the heart of BT.”

I can guarantee that John Petter and his boss Gavin Patterson spend most of their time obsessing about how they can organise their business to make money, grow and be cost efficient, whilst giving a good service. That’s what they get rewarded for. And yet making a fair return, making money for themselves and their employees, is no where to be seen in the mission and values of BT. These vision, mission and values statements have become divorced from reality, and its not just BT that suffer this problem.

Every business person that goes through a media training torture session comes out scared to death of saying anything, and is certainly left with the impression that having an open conversation about working hard to deliver value whilst making money is completely “off message”.

That’s what you could hear this morning from Mr Petter. His message was “buy unlimited packages” and he automaton-like repeated this time and time again. Charlie Stayt asked for a commitment from him that the prices would always be better value now and in the future, something which was impossible to answer on the couch in a studio. But instead of calmly responding, as Mr Petter might in a normal conversation with you or me, that BT always wanted to be good value, but that these decisions needed to be properly planned his only reply was “buy unlimited packages”. He thereby demonstrated that he didn’t trust those listening to his interview to conclude that he was a reasonable man with a reasonable approach and, yep, these things generally needed to be thought about.

Even when Susannah Reid asked him directly why he didn’t just explain that giving customers free calls meant that they didn’t make enough money, he wasn’t brave or trusting enough, to agree and admit that giving a good service and making a fair profit was what they were trying to do. All he could say was “buy unlimited packages”.

I felt sorry for John Petter this morning, a classic victim of media training where the goal is to say nothing, and a corporate and cultural context where trusting people to understand that businesses are there to try and give good services that we all need, and make a fair profit in return, is unacceptable.

Unfortunately until brands and businesses start to wake up to the fact that trust is a two way relationship, they will never win our trust.

Did you see the interview this morning. What do you think?
Do you work for BT? How did you feel?
Have you been media trained? What is your experience?

Please comment below and share with others using the social media icons.

Thanks – have a lovely, non-business, non-brand, non-marketing weekend and Valentine’s day.

Justin

Mail me: justin@basini.com
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MORALITY & BANKING

Yesterday I attended a talk at the RSA by John Lanchester who has recently written a book called Whoops! about the credit crunch.
The talk and subsequent questioning was mostly about the role of culture and regulation in banking; with the audience and speaker exploring how to develop a system that might be more sustainable.
I wrote a blog called Banking and the Common Good a while back which explored how the concept of common good could be placed as a central focus of a financial institution. Today’s blog picks up on some of these concepts.
The question is how we create a banking system that actually balances commercial objectives with social objectives that deliver benefit to the common good. I believe that a new language of responsibility needs to be imposed on the banks. Nearly all banks will tutor their leaders in Business Ethics; all banks have values statements that will include some version of “doing the right thing”.
But despite these words and intentions we still have a system that doesn’t in aggregate and from a macro-economic perspective deliver “the right thing” and act ethically in its impact. The frustration is that there are very few financial institutions that deliberately act in a clearly unethical way decision by decision, action by action, but in aggregate the effect is destructive.
The heart of the issue for me is one of what banks, especially investment banks, markets focused institutions and bank leadership more generally, value. And that is money, to this everything else is subservient. This is why banks are so successful, they have created extremely efficient systems for maximising profit to the exclusion of virtually all else. This creates inattentional blindness, which is the psychological phenomenon of being “blind” to anything apart from that which you are concentrating on, add hubris and you have a system that builds risk and is narrowly focused on one immediate outcome.
This valuing of one outcome only, with little assessment of second and third order effects and impacts, allows for a culture to become devoid of morals. And that moral bankruptcy turned into financial bankruptcy.
So what to do? Remembering that business ethics and values were taught and “on the wall” at our big financial institutions and offered no protection.
I would advocate a complete reversal of the incentive systems at our banks. We need an incentive system that puts most emphasis on demonstrating moral action and joined up thinking rather than seeking risk for greater return. This should be in an overtly, openly discussed moral framework. Leaders in these organisations need to become expert not just in maths and playing the markets, but seeing the impact of their business on different stakeholders and balancing this for commercial and social return.
Morality is at the very heart of our economic system. Adam Smith’s conception of markets was built on predictable outcomes between buyer and seller. The foundations of these predictable outcomes, in a time when regulation and rules of commerce were much less regimented and established than they are now, were moral action from individuals. I don’t think it is surprising that The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that Smith wrote 15 years prior to The Wealth of Nations and the majority of the books in The Wealth deal with how individuals living in society should conduct themselves. In order for the invisible hand, specialisation and the market dynamic to work as a value exchange there needs to be trust and in Smith’s conception this comes from morality.
This morality will need to be imposed. Major financial institutions have regressed back to the status quo, as John Lanchester said yesterday “the system is as risky as ever”. They will never voluntarily accept any balances to their earning power. So this will need to come from changed systems of regulation.
But this creates a paradox in that regulation, with its rule based approach, enables a moral vacuum by replacing human judgement with an attitude of “if we stay within the rules we are acting responsibly”. Ironically the FSA (the UK bank regulator) knew this. Over the past few years anyone working in a UK bank will be familiar with the pre-crash mantra of “principle based regulation”. No longer were we to work just within the “rules” but to their spirit. It didn’t work because it stayed at the surface, and people’s behaviour doesn’t change, in many cases the people need to change.
By changing what is valued in banks this will change who progresses within the organisations. This will be a key to unlock a new system. Let’s open up board positions on banks to a wider audience. What’s clear from the past two years is that having a career in banking behind you doesn’t give you any special insight or understanding so let’s have a more diverse group from environmentalists, to community leaders, to customers, having a real voice in the running of financial institutions.
It has been said that markets are amoral. That maybe true but they don’t work unless their participants act morally. Creating moral financial institutions working for commercial gain and the social common good is the challenge.

Please comment below and share using the social bookmark icons. Thanks as ever for reading.

Justin

Mail me: justin@basini.com
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THE NEW LANDSCAPE OF BRANDS

A quick post to share a presentation that I put together for the UK Marketing team for Carlsberg. An old friend of mine (Ian Hannaford @ihannaford) is now a Marketing Manager at Carlsberg and he kindly extended an invitation to talk through some thoughts on brands and marketing with the team.

It was great to meet the team and I really enjoyed the session. Some really interesting ideas surfaced which provoked lots of discussion. I learnt alot about Carlsberg including the fact that it is run as a trust contributing to Danish projects and the top board is scientists and artists. How differentiated is that?

I was impressed that the team was open to hearing ideas and thoughts from other marketers and categories – I wish all teams were as open. Thanks also go to the Director of Brands Paul Davies for allowing me a slot at his meeting.

Do you want me come to your team meeting and provoke some thinking and discussion? Email me – I might just take you up on the offer!

As ever – if you have any thoughts, disagreements, energy and passion to share about brands and marketing then please comment below or drop me an email.

Update on Battle of the Big Thinking (for those that have been following my frustrations on Twitter) – I finally have a stable draft of the presentation. If you are attending see you there and if you aren’t you will be able to take part because I’m going to extend an invitation for you to join the debate!

Hope you are having a great day!

Justin

Email me: justin@basini.com
My website: http://www.basini.com/
Read my blog: http://www.blog.basini.com/
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New store #design wins me over at #Mcdonalds – a better place to hang than #Starbucks

When I am spending the day writing (my book by the way) at the British Library in Kings Cross I normally grab a coffee at Starbucks. This morning I walked past a new cool looking store front and walked in. Cool music, free wifi, a plasma screen showing BBC News 24, cool furniture and an ok coffee for £1.49. Yep it was McDonalds and I really liked it.
Justin Basini
Web: www.basini.com
Blog: justinbasini.blogspot.com


It’s got ridiculous: two change of terms docs, 23 pages from Halifax, 16 pages from Citi

Download now or watch on posterous

MVI_1861.AVI (2939 KB)

19 sentences changed in the Halifax document but they sent me the whole thing!

25 sentences changed in the Citi document and they sent me the whole thing!

 

Now I worked in the financial services industry for years and I understand the need for well managed agreements and transparency. But they all know, and we all know, that very few people read these documents in detail so it is a case of arse covering. And that goes for the regulators too – who are in the mode of “as long as you’ve told people (whether they have understood it or not) then its buyer beware.”

 

And for the enviro-geeks (like me) looks like both docs are printed on coated virgin paper with no FSC claims (I’m hoping this is an oversight). At least the Halifax included recycle me logo.

 

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