Embrace the Good, the Bad, and the Uglyby Kim Sokolnicki on October 9, 2012
Admitting faults and flaws is hard for everyone. I once stole a Lip Smacker from a Kmart when I was in junior high and I never told anyone. I suppose it was my small way to ‘rebel’ in the suburbs of Ohio. I’ve always felt guilty about it… Kmart, I’m sorry.
There… that wasn’t so bad was it? Now you try…
Companies have an even harder time admitting when they’ve done wrong. They’re very happy to talk about all the wonderful things they’re doing, but if you even consider recommending that they discuss that issue (you know what I’m talking about), forget it. They shut down and go into Fort Knox mode. Fear of ‘bad media’ is paralyzing the conversation about progress towards sustainable business.
Luckily for everyone, we’re evolving. Thanks to the power of social media and the rapid pace of information and news in our lives, people are becoming more and more willing to embrace their own insecurities, admit when we’re wrong, and overall be more open with each other about the good, the bad, and the ugly. After all, what’s news this minute is history the next.
But what about companies? All brands want to humanize themselves, make themselves more relevant in the increasingly transparent world that we live in, and build trust with consumers. But they’re trying to be human without admitting any flaws. I don’t need to state the obvious here. If brands really want to relate to consumers and build trust, they’re going to have to start being a little more honest with themselves, and with the world.
It’s great to celebrate your strengths. If you really have invested millions in renewable energy upgrades and none of your competitors have even entered the game, make sure everyone knows about it! But if in doing so you’ve neglected the labor force manufacturing your products in Asia, be honest about it and let us know it’s the next item on your ‘to do’ list. We’ll understand.
I think Patagonia has proven that consumers are willing to forgive you if you’re honest. And Nestlé proved that if you just ignore the issue, Greenpeace will come find you and let everyone know. In both cases, the next item on the list was resolved, and positive impact was created. But where Patagonia had complete control over what was being said and benefited from the good publicity it received, Nestlé was at the mercy of one of the most aggressive activists on the scene and was forced to make change before they might have been ready which I’m sure cost the company more than it needed to.
The bottom line: to be human is to be balanced. We celebrate our strengths and admit when we’re wrong (even if it’s difficult to do). If you want to relate to us as humans, you have to walk the talk. I’d love to see more companies talk about their journey towards sustainability, and not just the small triumphs they’ve had along the way. We’ll never be able to make progress if we can’t see what lies ahead on the road ahead of us.
Open up, be brave, embrace the good, bad, and the ugly.
It’s ok, we’ll forgive you. That’s what we do.