Category Archives: Risk Management

Humanizing B2B

Here’s a surprising fact. At some point between the 1970s and the 1990s, the venerable AT&T brand reputation transitioned among certain audiences from “Ma Bell”… to “the death star.” Something similar transpired for Microsoft, which became widely known as “the evil empire“.

I’m not a corporate historian, but I know it has not been uncommon in recent years for large, public companies to find themselves similarly demonized. Think Enron collapse, Nike sweatshops, BP oil spill. Why?… generally it ties back to perceptions of company greed, thoughtlessness or incompetence. Regardless of ultimate culpability, our impressions are tightly linked to judgments about human motives underlying company behavior.

Enter the science of corporate reputation management and brand/messaging strategies designed to signal that company motives are pure, particularly B2B companies which are one step removed from public view. Here’s a sampling of recent B2B advertising in which employee voice-overs are used to create a softer, gentler company feel:

  • IBM – “Let’s build a smarter planet.”
  • Siemens – “No question is too tough for us to answer.”
  • FedEx – “Solutions that matter.”
  • Dow – “Together, the elements of science and the human element can solve anything.”

Heightened expectations for corporate social responsibility, combined with increased public transparency (internet, social media, 24/7 news cycles) have accelerated the race to put a human face on large B2B enterprises. But working to humanize the company in the eyes of stakeholder audiences has value beyond simply defending reputation. It signals the existence of a higher business purpose, one that can guide employees to do the right thing, help partners to engage in a spirit of true collaboration, and inspire customers/prospects to trust not only the product itself, but the intentions behind it. And trust is the glue in great long-term customer relationships.

Moral of the story here – if you are engaged in B2B business communications … be human, build trust, inspire custom.


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Filed under Brand Voice, Risk Management, Sense of community

Shock & Awe

Guerrilla marketing is not new. But it remains an incredibly effective way to captivate consumers.

Check out the dance riot created for T-Mobile in Liverpool station in 2009 (click here). Or look below at the guerrilla campaign for TNT Network in Belgium. In both cases, marketers inserted gripping theatrical drama (brand content) into the humdrum venues of daily living. Then all hell breaks loose.

The result – hundreds of people stop in their tracks, establish an indelible memory of the brand/concept and then share it with all their friends. Eventually it goes viral thanks to Facebook and YouTube sharing.

Moral of the story – in this age of viral media, well executed guerrilla marketing can engage consumers and drive brand registration like never before.


Filed under Brand Voice, Morbid curiosity, Risk Management

Doing The Right Thing

Here’s an interesting concept – “The things you do when no one is looking define you.”

I recently ran across this idea in a Chrysler ad emphasizing that the company doesn’t cut corners on quality on the sly. They do the right thing, and they do it with care and intentionality. Think of US Airways flight 1549 and the heroic pilot who saved the day by successfully landing his crippled plane in the Hudson river. Then watch the video to see what he really did when no one was looking. It’s impressive.

Moral of the story- people like brands and companies that do the right thing. It’s the foundation of trust, and it’s rewarded by emotional and behavioral loyalty.

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We are hardwired to seek out authenticity – the “real” thing.

We look for it in our personal relationships, in our business relationships, in the things we buy, and in the things we treasure. We care about provenance, because it’s a promise of security in an uncertain world. But sometimes we get fooled – hoodwinked, bamboozled, fleeced, swindled – and that can cause pain and loss. Think the Trojan Horse. Think Bernie Madoff.

Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, has done fascinating research into how & why we value authenticity. He calls it Essentialism. Watch this video and have your eyes opened.

Moral of the story – authenticity, provenance, back-story…these are huge drivers of consumer behavior.

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Get Cozy with Google?

I’ve been online since 1995 and have rarely read online privacy policies in detail – think Facebook, Google, Ebay, etcetera.  I just check the box and click “I Agree.”

Turns out I’m not alone. Recent research suggests that the most of us skip over these policy statements. Net – they are too long, too technical or sometimes understood as a promise that security measures are in place. Behavioral economists call this type of behavior “future discounting.” It’s when we ignore potential for negative consequences in favor of an immediate payoff.

By now you probably know that Google is rolling out a new Privacy Policy that links your user information from across Google platforms. Sounds scary doesn’t it? Privacy advocates are crying foul and negative press is building – Orwell’s 1984 in 2012. Google has anticipated the negative buzz and launched an info campaign to turn things around – includes easy-to-read policy documents, video explanations, cartoon icons to humanize the story, and a folksy tonality that leads off with the line “This stuff really matters.”

To be honest, it’s working for me. I’m going to continue to use Google apps and ignore their privacy policy. And now I also get a warm, cozy feeling from how Google handles privacy. Fingers crossed their intentions are honorable…

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Souring the Collective Mind

Carnival beforeCarnival after                                                                                                                                                                                          You can tell a lot about what consumers are thinking by playing a bit of word association – what thoughts, feelings and ideas link together in their individual heads. Then look at this in aggregate – using social media monitoring tools like Sysomos – and you get a snapshot of what’s on their collective mind.

The example above is pulled from research done by the Digital Influence Group. It shows a “2 weeks before” vs. “2 weeks after” view of web chatter  linked to the Costa Concordia disaster. Note that the explosion of negative press transformed the consumer narrative around cruising in general, and Carnival in particular, from good to bad. And industry sales have plunged 10%-15% vs. year ago.

Moral of the story – yet more proof that bad press is bad for business.

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Filed under Risk Management