Editorial Seller beware

The evidence continues to mount.Consumers are smart as hell and marketers can't fake it anymore.Gone are the days of profitable roll-outs of me-too products that had little or no added benefit and could rely on attractive and persuasive advertising campaigns to...

The evidence continues to mount.

Consumers are smart as hell and marketers can’t fake it anymore.

Gone are the days of profitable roll-outs of me-too products that had little or no added benefit and could rely on attractive and persuasive advertising campaigns to build sales. Gone, too, are the days when big companies’ corporate behavior was some kind of abstraction relegated to the pages of the financial press and, therefore, unconnected to consumers and their buying decisions.

Last issue, we reported on the results of an important national study which found, among other things, that Canadians are punishing companies whose corporate behavior they consider ‘bad’ by not buying these companies’ products. And, conversely, consumers are consciously rewarding ‘good’ companies with their patronage.

Right on its heels is the release of another study by the Angus Reid Group for the public relations firm Continental PIR, which found that slightly more than 90% of Canadians say it is ‘very important’ for companies to ‘build trust’ among employees and customers. Yet most of these same people feel that there has not been much progress in this area.

This feeling was uniformly shared across all regions, age groups, gender, education and income levels.

In other words, it would be a fatal mistake to think that this tough new customer is just some intellectual or activist fringe.

The Continental/Reid study involved a representative cross-section of 1,507 Canadians surveyed between Jan. 20 and Jan. 30 of this year.

In other key findings, the study found that:

- 85% of those surveyed reported that a company’s positive public image or perception in the marketplace has an effect on their choice as to whether to buy a particular product or service.

- 41% said corporate image has a ‘great deal’ of influence on their buying decision, and 44% said it has a ‘fair amount’ of influence.

Yet, of these same, typical Canadians:

- Only 28% described companies today as ‘more believable’ than they used to be, while another 21% believe that company communications today are ‘less believable.’

A large gap continues to exist between the companies that make and market commercial products and the people to whom they sell. And the biggest contributor to this gap may well be communications.

In a recent conversation with one of Toronto’s leading creative directors, the topic arose of how business communicates with the consumer. He pointed to a finding in a recent study that may be alarming to some. It revealed the extraordinarily cynical reaction of most average consumers to words that, judging from their continued useage, must have meaning to some people in corporate affairs departments somewhere. Words such as ‘empowerment,’ ‘competitiveness,’ ‘structural change,’ ‘prosperity,’ ‘life-long learning’ and ‘stakeholder.’ To the average consumer, they are insincere drivel.

It is not enough that corporations change their products or services to address the new priorities of the Canadian consumer. They must also let their customers know what they have done, in a way that is both meaningful and credible.