A few days ago I stumbled upon a blog entry posted on treehugger.com by the owner of a bottled tea company recently acquired by Coca-Cola. In 2010, the bottled tea company had been included in Planet 100's list of the Seven Greenest Companies. In this entry, the author defended the company's decision to sell the business to Coca-Cola. But as I read, I couldn't help but feel as if I was listening to a bull in a china shop.
The author's first target was a Reuter's Journalist who, in recent coverage, had referred to the bottled tea company as "tiny". To the author, this reference to "tiny" had become the equivalent to nails-on-the-chalkboard; the bottled tea company was not "tiny"! The author had set the tone of the post in his first paragraph.
Then there was "Ray". Ray is introduced as the guy who had taken the time to call the author's office to complement the company on the quality of their product and to find out whether the take-over by Coca-Cola was true. If it were true, Ray said he would not be buying anymore of the company's bottled tea.
"Ray" was singled out by the author as an example of the "unconscious, conscious consumer"; the kind of consumer who just didn't get it. You know, the kind of person you might find reading treehugger.com. Ouch! Did the author actually believe he'd get a sympathetic reaction from this blog's reader? Most people leaving comments identified with Ray. They really liked the bottled tea company and they were emotionally connected with the Brand. They did not expect the author's arrogance nor the finger wagging lecture!
I can't imagine why the owner opted for the strategy he did. Did he not realize that he had a great opportunity to thank everyone for patronizing him, his company and for buying his products over the years, as some business leaders would have chosen to do?
Additionally, he could have introduced the Brand's great products, and the recognition by Planet 100 to those learning about the Brand for the first time. He could then have proceeded to explain the business case for his decision to sell; and with an aspirational tone, acknowledged the opportunity to influence change in the larger corporation! But he didn't.
The owner of the bottled tea company had grown out of touch with those who consumed his products.
Conscious consumers are looking for more than a transactional relationship with a Brand. They align themselves with a Brand to express their values, believing that they are making a difference, converting their relationship from being merely transactional to being transformational when they support the Brands they do. Sadly, when you misread their loyalty, or take it for granted, they get angry. If they were only interested in a transactional relationship, it would not matter to them what Brand of bottled tea they chose to drink. Any tea off the shelf would do. When comparing Brands, they will always choose the Brand they believe to be socially responsible: the Brand that stands for more than just profits.
Sometimes the conversation is a difficult one, but leaders do get through it. What are some of the particularly effective engagement strategies you've seen used by business leaders to connect with their supporters? It would be great to have your thoughts! You know where the soapbox is.
photo credit: Tramp's Living Room, Mike Cunliffe via flickr