We’ll Be Good, Really We Will..

I had to laugh really.

“We don’t want to be bad, we want to be good” the man said. His almost pathetic appeal to the TV cameras sounded more like a naughty boy who’d been told that if he wasn’t a good, he wouldn’t be allowed out to play. As Peter Rabbit said, “Why do it do it? What can it be? There’s naughtiness in everyone, but twice as much in me”.

But this wasn’t a child, this was Philip Clarke, the newly appointed head of Tesco, Britain’s most successful retail brand of the last ten years.

He carried on, “we need to..create more engagement”. This almost simpering message felt like a slap around the face acting as a wake up call.

More engagement? Sharpen customer communications (sounds dodgy!), sort out the details…we’ll soon see if these are merely platitudes, but let’s be generous for now and say well done, you’ve woken up to the rise of humanised business that social media is leading.

But Tesco will need to change beyond belief. For every tweet they might send in the future (they’re not big on Twitter!) someone will show you a farmer having his livlihood threatened by Tesco’s buying culture, for every ‘little bit’ that counts on Facebook, we’ll see protests outside a recently closed pub or business that Tesco want to tun into a Metro within a mile of one of their superstores.

I guess the retailer that bares comparison in the US is naturally Walmart, owners of UK supermarket chain Asda, whose sustainability initiatives are the biggest sign that big brands, huge brands, need to respond to customer’s concerns in a very real way. But Tesco have a mountain to climb.

I recall an article in Marketing Week by Professor Mark Ritson, which was totally negative to the potential benefit to businesses of social media tools. In fact he cited the success of Tesco, who at that time were silent when it came to social media, as the biggest success story in recent British economic history and that therefore they should be the model for aspiring businesses. Facebook and Twitter are purely for celebrities he said. I guess Ritson would see Salesforce.com’s purchase of Radian6 a few weeks ago for $340m as a huge mistake.

He may prove to be right of course, but Tesco – the case study central to his argument, appear for now to have left him behind and to have bought into the fact that what businesses need in 2011 and beyond is to be real, human, authentic and yes – sociable.

In hard times, the pressure on retailers to keep prices low is immense. But if a retailer makes my time spent with them either in store online or on the phone, a pleasant one, respond to me when I ask them to and show me individual attention I will remember that more than my milk costing 2p more.

And I’ll tell everyone all about them.

PS – Just checked Philip Clarke’s Twitter page. He’s doing well. Has over 3,000 followers….but he’s following just 2! And one of them is Tesco!!!!

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