retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Now available on iTunes…

To listen, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, Click here.

Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MNB Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

I’ve been on the roads for the past 10 days in the Pacific Northwest, which is my idea of heaven - longtime readers of MNB know that when it comes to this part of the country, I have lust in my heart. So spending 10 days here on various business projects has been no problem at all.

Earlier this week, I have the opportunity to spend some time at the “Today’s Managers, Tomorrow’s Leaders” conference run by Portland State University’s Food Industry Leadership Center. I was speaking at the event, but also hung around to attend an excellent session on social networking that was being run by Craig Ostbo of the Portland, Oregon-based marketing firm of Koopman Ostbo. (I had some selfish motives here - I’m doing a session on social networking and the internet at the annual Meat Conference next week, and I’m always willing to learn from how other people approach the subject.)

One thing I did come out of the session thinking more about is the extent to which some people in the industry are in some level of denial about the enormous shift that is taking place in our business culture, and how it is going to affect all of us in the long run. We are entering a time, I firmly believe, of what can be called “the transparent corporation,” in which a strong light will be directed on how our companies treat our employees and customers, source our products, and even handle our finances.

There will be some who will say, “we don’t want to go there.” Some who will say, “it will be too expensive” or “too intrusive.” Some will blame the liberal media for pushing for something that nobody else wants. Some of these people will be older executives with fond memories of earlier, less complicated times. And some will be people far younger than I, but who have been forced into narrow thinking by bureaucracy or bottom lines or a corporate emphasis on tactical rather than strategic thinking.

None of which we can afford.

Yes, we must listen and watch carefully as social media continue to evolve. We cannot be caught unawares. The strong light of transparency can often be a harsh light.

Just ask Domino’s Pizza, where a YouTube video showed employees deliberately contaminating product they were selling. (A garlic crust sounds good, but boogers...not so much.)

Or ask United Airlines, where they apparently like to break guitars ... and there is an online video that highlights the company’s lack of customer service.

Or Southwest Airlines, where they seemingly don’t like fat people, and we know this because film director Kevin Smith wrote about it to millions of people on Twitter when he got bumped off a plane because of his girth.

Or A&P, where a YouTube video showed a couple of employees rapping and doing unpleasant things with the produce, including pretending to urinate on it.

Now, all of these companies responded to their problems to varying degrees - some more successfully and competently than others.

But I would argue that they all were playing defense ... and that they would have been better off if they had created a transparent corporate culture that actually played against the accusations being made about them. You can’t just listen to what people in the social media world are saying about you, but have to engage with it...having an extended conversation that goes beyond monolog or even dialog, but actually creates an environment of trust that envelops customers, employees, and business partners.

This is going to be hard for some. It goes against so much that they have been taught.

Some people and companies won’t adopt this model, or can’t. And that’s actually okay, because the customers to whom they cater won’t demand or expect it.

But this group of customers will shrink, I believe, as the next generation of shoppers becomes a larger percentage of the total, and they bring with them new and specific expectations of the businesses and people with whom they interact.

It won’t even be easy for many of the companies that want to adopt the model, simply because it seems to run counter to how the world works and how rewards have been handed out.

The transparent corporation. It is both a goal and a work in progress. The important thing is this - the world in which we all work and live makes such a notion not only desirable, but inevitable. And done right, even profitable.

For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
KC's View: