Business-to-business / business-to-consumer terminology is outdated: we operate in a human-to-human world where we should no longer think in terms of communicating with companies, but with people.
Such was the conclusion of a panel discussion yesterday to launch findings of a new piece of research, conducted by Harvard PR alongside our colleagues in The Good Relations Group. You can find out more about the TripleG research findings here.
Our panel was comprised of Senta Cermakova, director, global customer referencing at HP; Jackie Nixon, head of marketing UK & Ireland at Cisco; and Philippa Snare, chief marketing officer at Microsoft; and moderated by Amelia Torode, head of strategy at The Good Relations Group.
If people communicate with people, then it stands to reason that everyone within the company has a responsibility for reputation. “It should no longer be ‘owned’ by marketing,” said Cermakova. And of course the implication is that reputation can also be broken by just about anyone within the company.
That means the concept of “being good” needs to sit at the heart of the organisation. “We have a programme to recruit people who have the same values,” said Snare. “We manage by objectives rather than detail, and trust our employees to represent the whole company.”
But what does “being good” actually consist of? Cisco came out particularly well in our survey when it came to companies that were viewed as being very ethical and responsible. Nixon said it wasn’t about what the company says, but about what it does: “It’s not about any one single factor. We have strong leadership, both globally and locally. We fund people studying STEM subjects, and take them through to university level so we have a wider pool of people. The British Innovation Gateway was a legacy of [our] London 2012 [sponsorship]. It was great to showcase what we did, but then we drove it into industry through CREATE; to startups, and also outside of London to Manchester, Birmingham, etc. [Being good] isn’t part of a CSR programme; it IS us.”
The concept of authenticity was a recurring theme during the discussion, not least when the conversation turned to our research findings on what would make a business customer fire a technology vendor. It didn’t surprise our panel that faking a customer reference was viewed dimly by respondents in our study. In fact, we found 89% would fire a vendor for fabricating customer references; the exact same number who would fire a company for being caught employing child labour.
Cermakova said: “[Faking] customer references is emblematic of broken trust. At HP, we manage the customer reference programme globally, but execute locally. That means we can organise interviews in a trustworthy and authentic way, in local languages.
“B2B isn’t a helpful term, because our professional lives are so integrated into our personal lives. Where does one stop and the other begin?”
Snare agreed: “We need to dismantle B2B / B2C terminology. At Microsoft, we rarely do pure brand advertising, but aim instead to create amazing stories. If there are good stories, people will share them.”
Asked to provide one piece of advice on how to improve soft capital – what The Good Relations Group calls intangible reputational factors, such as actions, recommendation and engagement – Cermakova said: “Aim big and go for it.” Snare added: “Be authentic and inspirational.” And Nixon concluded: “Unleash the creativity in your human capital.”