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.