Image by notacrime via FlickrI'm doing quite a lot of conference speaking thingies this Autumn, so apologies in advance to anyone who suffers in one of those audiences. I'm particularly looking forward to the MediaME Conference in Amman on the 8th and 9th November, I'm genuinely pumped (but retained as a consultant by, so please take a pinch of salt) about the MENA ICT Forum taking place in Amman on the 10th and 11th October and I'm speaking on a panel thingy tomorrow at the Global Arab Business Meeting in Ras Al Khaimah.
There's more, but I've forgotten them. It's not arrogance, I've just got a brain the side of a dried pea.
I think tomorrow might be interesting. I'm a panellist on the topic of The Sustainable Corporation - "How the corporate sector may embrace socially responsible strategies" and I'm planning to set a cat or two among the pigeons. You see, I think the Middle East's corporate sector must embrace socially responsible strategies or die - but I'm not talking about giving a few thousand Dinars to some centre that's backed by an influential figure. Believe me, I have seen enough of 'ana mudhir' companies doling out cash to well supported causes (which they laughingly call 'CSR') to last me a lifetime, and railed against it every time I've encountered it (often to little effect). I'm not talking about that tomorrow. I'm talking about true social responsibility.
Try this on for size:
Your ability to obfuscate and dissemble is being limited day by day because of the sharing and access that the Internet is driving. We know much more about you than you think - and we share a lot more opinion about you than you'd like. That movement of opinion, that tide of consumer-driven feedback is actually becoming increasingly important.
If there's a leak, you can not longer go out and say "there is no leak" and depend on a mendacious PR company and a compliant media. We're sharing the video of people sloshing around as you're pretending there is no problem (Sorry, 'issue'). When you need people to believe in your integrity, you'll find that you've already undermined it.
Companies make profits. It's what they do. We don't believe for one second that your move to expand your operations is driven by a commitment to the market or a clear response to the needs of the community. It's about profitability and that's okay. But stop trying to dress up clearly commercial decisions as community commitment. And you can stop the greenwashing stuff right there, buddy. Oh, and one more thing. I'll buy a mobile network based on price and quality of service, bess. Your "giving back to the community" lip service is not a factor for me. If you were a true and active member of my community, now that's interesting. But you're not, you're just bankrolling stuff.
We all make mistakes (as the hedgehog said, climbing off the toilet brush). You can actually engage with communities, your customers, and explain why you made a decision (get a spine) or why you made a mistake and how you'll put it right. We expect no less. When you don't do this, your customers with gather together and talk about what weasels you are.
Be led by your customers
Too many companies in the Middle East splosh 'customer-centric' in their brand values and then go on to treat customers like dirt. Take a close look at the telco sector and you'll see how those organisations have been punished by customers. God knows, I've taken diabolical glee in every piece of work I've done breaking a telco monopoly and you would not believe how low that fruit lay every time. You're a monopoly? Play nicely, because winds of change are abroad and they can change things a damn sight faster than you think.
Last but by no means least - be digital.
What do I get when I Google you? Do you know? TripAdvisor makes hoteliers sweat, but many other Middle East businesses are unaware of the flow of opinion - and are not searchable, responsive or digitally competent. Which is a shame, because an increasingly large number of your customers are. You can assert what you like about your company, it's products and brand. But you are no longer in control of the process of communication - your customers are talking on a wonderful scale. Your assertions are being tested by third parties with more reach than you have.
That's all I'll have time for - and believe me, my list is a sight longer than that. But I'm looking forward to the reaction...