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Behind the rhetoric, industry relies on a contract of trust

By Carl Gibson, chief executive of Complementary Medicines Australia

- Last updated on GMT

Behind the rhetoric, industry relies on a contract of trust
Warren Buffett once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

In no other era could that quote be taken quite as literally as now. Today’s is an environment of instant information, an evolving web of personalised, intelligent, linked data and a consumer shift from passive recipients of data into active interactions across the digital and communication media domain. 

Social network sites, interactive game-scenarios and RSS feeds present new ways to connect businesses and consumers. This means the power to connect with people and to draw on consumer trust has never been greater. 

Consumers today rightly expect the highest ethical standards from businesses. They hope companies will do what is right by customers, employees, suppliers, other stakeholders and the environment. 

Building a strong relationship of engagement and trust with consumers through vehicles such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr offers great rewards. 

But today’s environment is also laden with risks, especially for businesses that fail to uphold their side of the relationship, ethically and with regard to the triple bottom line.  Consumers will react to a break in trust and they are empowered to share their disgust and disappointment widely.

Nestlé learnt this lesson the hard way. In 2010, when Greenpeace parodied the “Have a break; have a Kit Kat​” slogan in a YouTube video to protest against unsustainable palm oil production, Nestlé’s initial response was to force the withdrawal of the video by citing copyright. 

This led to a viral outbreak of criticism on social media, which then led to antipathy expressed in mainstream media around the world. Whilst Nestlé changed its approach and sought to certify the sustainability of its palm oil suppliers, this example is not forgotten. 

In fact, it is now used to teach MBA students how not to handle a social media-driven threat to reputation. 

For businesses in the complementary medicines industry, the unwritten contract we have with our customers is to help maintain, improve or enhance their health. This is no small thing. Which means that our industry holds great responsibility and must be vigilant to ensure that we continue to deserve the trust that consumers place in our brands and our products. 

A breach in consumer confidence in our industry has the potential to have much greater consequences on our credibility and reputation than those experienced by a company that manufactures things like chocolate bars, for example. 

Our business leaders need to make sure they have moved beyond ethical rhetoric and embed these values into day-to-day organisational practices, because consumers want to be involved in creating a new story: one that is geared to produce a better, healthier and more equitable future.

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