Living our values: respectful [6/7]

Part six of a blogpost series on the InSites Consulting company values. Last week, it was exactly 50 years ago that Martin Luther King gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. King’s dream was about creating equal chances for all: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” While this battle for equal rights has been far from won, we are witnessing a new battle for equality, this one running between brands and consumers. While brands have been the almighty power for ages, we are gradually shifting in the direction of a power balance between brands and consumers. And that is a good thing.
Brands and consumers increasingly share equal rights and duties. Brands have the power to craft a vision and to transform that vision into real products and services, communication, customer service, etc. Consumers have the power to make or break brands through conversations and recommendations, co-creation and collaboration and evidently buying and consuming. Not only did consumers acquire increasing power through social media (enabling them to share experiences more easily, but also to participate in group purchases), consumer rights organizations such as EFSA gained increasing power and have put additional pressure on brands to take consumers for real. And let’s not forget what companies such as Google have contributed, offering free services to the rich and the poor around the globe and thereby driving global equality and accelerating human learning and commerce.
“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” Winston Churchill
Churchill likes pigs
I love that quote. Being respectful means neither looking up to nor down on others, but treating each other as equals. And this through acts, not words. This is all the more true in today’s transparent society, grouping ever more marketing-savvy citizens. If you make a promise, you’d better stick to or even exceed it. Anything brands say can and will be used against them if it is not backed up by strong and real evidence. A recent example of how things can go wrong is the stunt Norway’s Prime Minister Stoltenberg pulled off by acting as a taxi driver for one day, therefore demonstrating to better understand and connect with everyday citizens. While everything appeared to be real and authentic, several passengers were apparently paid to feature in the videos, downgrading the whole experience.

While many examples of the like exist, the future is bright as companies are learning fast. Great companies increasingly realize that people and people only show the world their true identity, whether they are employees or customers. They act as humans and allow people to act on their behalf. They say sorry when they mess things up, have their top managers interact directly with customers and empower their employees to make a true difference for customers. Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, knows all about the power of reciprocity, building his organization around bringing happiness instead of selling shoes: “We asked ourselves what we wanted this company to stand for. We didn’t just want to sell shoes. I wasn’t even into shoes – but I was passionate about customer service.” He knows like no one else that we are in service to each other and that a customer-centric view of business life is the key to success and happiness.
People as true identity of a company
So what does respectful mean to InSites Consulting? Similar to the above, equality is the core. It even is the basis for our company vision. Every day, we try to bring brands and consumers closer to each other, narrowing the power gap that still exists between them. In most of our Consumer Consulting Boards, half the discussions are related to questions or challenges from brands, while the other half result from topics ‘board members’ have put on the agenda themselves. All of this leads to consumers having a real and more impactful say in the future of brands, which drives equality. We apply a similar equality principle when using consumers as co-researchers, considering them to be ‘equals’ and involving them in quality control, moderation, interpretation and method innovation. Equality also means that we strive to keep our company as flat as possible. We lower perceived hierarchical thresholds by working in open office spaces, encouraging flex-desk working, embracing co-creation initiatives, facilitating office migration and giving young people the chance to show themselves. For newcomers, there is no way of telling who is a partner, unless you carefully explored our website.
Let me conclude with a final quote from Churchill (yes, I’m kind of a fan of his quotes :-): “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Being strong believers in future generations, we give back to children in an effort to help them reach a more promising future: granting more than 100 laptops via the one laptop per child initiative; funding a primary school project for kids aged 6 to 12 in Burundi for UNICEF through our 100 miles cycling adventure from our Rotterdam to our Ghent office, or helping to make children’s dreams come true via the Make-a-Wish organization.
Being respectful does not equal being soft, it equals being daring, just like Martin Luther King was daring: daring to let go of your power; daring to be real and authentic; daring to show your true identity. And that automatically brings me to our final value, to be unveiled next week!

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