What matters to customers matters to your reputation

My 12-year-old daughter, clearly upset, brought a just used bottle of shampoo to my wife last night. “They test it on animals,” she said, the tone of accusation in her voice almost reserved for herself. That brand had in a moment done itself a lifetime of reputational damage in one hit. This is a reality from which not even B2B companies are immune.

Wordlessly she handed my wife her phone with the www.crueltyfreekitty.com website headlining that particular brand of shampoo – and its parent company – as “not cruelty-free”. True or false, the accusation stands true in my daughter’s mind. Needless to say, we won’t be buying that shampoo again. And so, the young teach us.

The manufacturer may be too big to care at this stage, but such ethical issues are not going away, and products and companies that do not only ensure they are above reproach but take steps to prove that they are – and this includes B2B – will disappear from the market. Not even a good public relations response with apologies and explanations will be considered acceptable. In an age of increasing tolerance, customers have never been more intolerant. ‘Sorry’ won’t wash (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Ethical or socially responsible considerations are not only a growing factor in consumer decision making. Investors now question the ethics of where they put their money, and we see similar developments in the business-to-business sector as well. Business customers, their staff and their customers want to buy and sell with a clear conscience.

Research from Clutch reveals that “Fewer people (44%) say the price is among the most important attributes of a company compared to environmentally-friendly business practices (71%), social responsibility (68%), and giving back to the local community (68%)”.

New research tells us that consumer values have crossed over into the business-to-business marketplace as well. Locally, Kiwibank’s responsible banking policy is evidence that regardless of whether you are B2B or B2C, ethical considerations will significantly impact your business. The bank will withhold services for companies with involvement in things like gambling, fossil fuels, weapons, and palm oil.

Good public relations and reputation management start at the beginning of the supply chain, literally at ground level. Questions to consider include whether or not wage earners in your supply chain are earning a living wage and how or where you obtain your raw materials.

One slip up in your supply chain could do your reputation lasting damage which, if it doesn’t destroy you, will undoubtedly cling like a monkey to your back. Neither does the business-to-business sector have time to ‘catch up’ – the changes must happen now. At the very least, business leaders need to be talking publicly about their ethical position.

To protect, future proof and enhance your reputation, consider the following steps:

1. What matters to your stakeholders? Research the expectations of your customers, investors, staff, suppliers, and community to better understand ethical expectations and the causes that are most important to your stakeholders.
2. Review your supply chain to ensure that you are satisfied that they meet the ethical, environmental and social standards expected by your stakeholders.
3. Consider supporting a social cause with which your community identifies. Creating a narrative around your reason (a digital footprint), why you support that particular cause, and the nature of that support makes a buffer against potential future lousy publicity.

As advertising man and author Roy Spence put it, “What you stand for is as important as what you sell.”

Photo by: Tong Nguyen van

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