How the 7 virtues translate into best practices for marketers.
By Tasman Richardson
Previously, I wrote about the Bushido code, or the seven virtues of the samurai, which are a collection of beliefs meant to define a samurai the same way chivalry works as a peer assessment of sir lance-a-lot. As I said before, there’s a tendency to cringe at the idea of applying something as noble as Bushido to marketing but it’s actually a good fit. Besides which, the same people that are cringing are feeling that way because of all the brands that DON’T have a code or virtues, so put away your katana swords and read on!
Part one of this blog dealt with:
In this blog we’ll complete the list with the four remaining virtues, starting with:
Respect could be interpreted a few ways. Respecting yourself, in this case, your employees, but I would translate this as respect your customers. The best way to do this is to be as aware of the individual as possible. Since it’s a monster task to take on, especially for companies with a broad customer base, the next best option is to know the local culture. If you’re expanding or relocating, make sure the brand is able to co-exist and support the region and the beliefs of the people close to it. This is especially true for food and hospitality brands that find land on distant shores. Living in the 90s in Canada, you’d be hard pressed to get a vegetarian pizza at Pizza Hut, but did you know you’d have no problem if that Pizza Hut were in India? In Gujarat, India, Pizza Hut not only took the trouble to accommodate the local culture, they even offered a special “Jian vegetarian” option which avoids the use of onion, garlic, and potato. This was a totally unprecedented act for a large, well established franchise. They could have said we’re in demand; our product is a success, why should we change something that’s already well liked? The change was a necessary act of respect for their new hosts, and many other large chains followed in their virtuous footsteps.
Honesty has a bit of overlap with Honour (see below) but it focuses on transparency and full disclosure. That means admitting to your failures as well as your accomplishments. Some might scoff at brand honesty as being a trendy tactic to win over consumers. I’m inclined to agree. It seems in the business world altruism is in short supply. But regardless of a company’s true motivations, it’s good business sense in a market where consumers review and compare experiences online in social communities. The speed and depth of information forms a lens too broad to hide from. If your honesty falters your honour will be impacted. It’s not a three strikes rule. Every trespass goes on your permanent record (as far as the public is concerned). Of course, coming clean and expressing your shame (another samurai practice) can turn a PR disaster into a brand rebirth. Maple Leaf Foods faced a devastating loss of consumer confidence during the now infamous 2008 listeria outbreak. Responding to the sharp drop in opinion polls (from 21 to 86 by 2010), new CMO Stephen Graham told Marketing magazine, “I think you’ll see it come back, if we do it well. Confidence is not something that’s bought. It’s earned.” The candid apologies made by the companies CEO Michael McCain along with the improvements in food safety have become the gold standard in crises communication courses. Terry Flynn, assistant professor of communications at McMaster University echoed this when he said: “Maple Leaf Foods really turned this crisis into an opportunity to refocus the initiative of the organization to things that matter to the customer”.
The reputation of big business and by extension business students has become so degraded that a worldwide trend has begun with business school graduates. For example, at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, students publically swore to: “act honourably and ethically in all my dealings, in the belief and knowledge that doing so will lead to a greater good.” The trend in honour pledges starts with Ivey in 2004, followed by Harvard in 2009 and Queen’s in 2011, so there’s no doubt it’s catching on.
Honour, like Honesty can be critical to crisis management. Like Maple Leaf Foods, Johnson and Johnson faced a public crisis. In 1982 Tylenol laced with cyanide killed seven people. The company response was to pull all ads, and dedicate R&D to the safety of their customers. The result was the now familiar triple seal packaging. The focus on customers was not a new innovation but in fact an old promise that had been forgotten. J&J call it The Credo, a brief document of only four paragraphs first drafted in 1948. It lists who the brand is responsible to in order of importance: customers, employees, communities, stockholders. Yes, stockholders were listed LAST. The credo is the honour pledge for J&J. Sadly, in recent years the credo has been reduced to a marketing slogan read and spoken of, but rarely observed. The result: 29 separate product recalls and an FDA investigation into quality control.
When it comes to loyalty, most marketers focus so sharply on customer loyalty that they overlook the responsibility of the brand and it’s loyalty to the consumer. In researching this subject, I had to dig deep, search page after search page to find any reference to brands that are loyal to customers.
Retailers often offer discounts to draw customers that have never done business with them, while at the same time ignoring their long term existing clients. Ever try to switch from one service provider to another? You almost always get offered a competitive price match. As Martin Grunstein’s blog says, the customers with the worst deals are the ones that never complain, never switch, in other words, the loyal customers. When you reward customers after a sale, it feels like real appreciation. When you offer a reward before the sale, it feels like a bribe. Another great example from Martin Grunstein’s blog is the story about his optometrist. Whenever he sells a pair of reading glasses for the first time, he sends out a thank you card and a paperback novel. The card says “thanks for buying your glasses from us. We really appreciate your business. I hope you’ll accept this book with my compliments and enjoy reading with your new glasses for the first time.” Grunstein’s blog says it best: “it’s important to know that people are loyal to people, not companies or incentive programmes”.
(Source: Gujarat Money, Respect local culture)
(Source: The Globe and Mail, I pledge to be an honourable business person…)
(Source: BrandsEye, Building Honourable Brands)
(Source: Drug Regulations, Johnson & Johnson – no more a gold standard)
(Source: Johnson & Johnson, Our Credo)