Time for Competitive Advantage
Evidence is all.
Your customers are people. Regardless of whether your products are aimed at businesses or ‘consumers' the fact is that your ‘targets’ are people who have their own views, opinions and perspectives on the world - and on the companies (or brand owners) that are trying to second guess their views, opinions and perspectives.
But this is new…in effect a new contract - or set of terms and conditions - has been written by many organisations, built on hubris. An arrogance has set in to one side of the relationship between corporations and the people. And the people are beginning to show that they don’t like it.
So how has this change manifested itself? It’s probably best explained by using a quote from the late Christopher Hitchens.
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
In the last few years a discourse has emerged that has engulfed global brands and radically altered the way they have done business. The process started - in earnest after the financial crash in 2008 - but gathered pace during the Brexit referendum (which had global ramifications) and after lockdown in March 2020. In effect, businesses started latching on to narratives that they considered useful (for their longevity) and based on consensus. But no-one made any attempt to make any particular empirical cases for these agreed narratives - or to test the basis upon which the consensus was claimed.
And what were/are these narratives?
Post-2008 the main abiding narrative was that businesses didn’t need to stick to agreed standards of governance (or conduct) to succeed.
The bank bailouts, of banks too big to fail, were considered essential for the continued running of the global economy. Therefore, they were bailed out. Then a similar thing happened with zombie companies. They, too, were bailed out with QE programmes. Then sovereign banks were bailed out by supra-national central banks. Then, when lockdown was introduced in the West, people who were forced to go home, rather than work in viable businesses, were bailed-out by furlough schemes. The pseudo-consensus narratives that emerged from this process of bailing-out were based largely on money-printing and government dependency. And the mainstream media was in lockstep with the narrative creation, increasingly universal in nature and singularly devoid of any convincing evidence.
And so it happened that the narrative emerged that the people of the United Kingdom could not vote to leave the European Union. A significant majority did. Similarly, people started opting out of the mainstream financial system by choosing challenger banks or by buying bitcoin. And when the BBC and other mainstream media chose to represent only viewpoints ‘within the narrative’ then people started moving to alternative media, even dumping some of them when they started cancelling alternative opinions. Hence Facebook’s stock crash following poor advertising revenue and a decline in active users.
But Hitchens’ mantra is correct. If no real evidence is presented for a certain world view people can’t be criticised for rejecting that world-view. And the same argument applies to the ESG movement - where businesses are required to conform to certain environmental, social (AKA diversity) and governance norms in order to win contracts or investment.
Twitter had clearly jumped on the pseudo-consensus bandwagon by adapting its editorial guidelines to reflect a corporatist ESG view. Major influencers were cancelled when they expressed viewpoints that ran counter to the preferred corporatist/globalist narrative. Instead of building upon its highly successful business model that attracted some of the world’s most influential people to the platform, it proceeded to cancel them. And now that Twitter has been acquired by Elon Musk it’s clear that the nature of the platform will be overhauled, and, hopefully, free speech will be reinstated, balanced by accountability and a reduction in bot traffic.
What Musk saw, and many of us have witnessed, is a wholesale one-sided politicisation of our civil society - but with only one set of corporatist narratives permitted. These narratives are shouted across every channel but listening mode is shut off. That’s why the World Economic Forum, for example, has set its tweets to not accept replies. That’s why the UK Covid Enquiry is only consulting with people who accepted lockdown as a suitable policy response. That’s why just about every corporatist logo adopts the Pride colours during Pride week. The most fundamental underpinnings of our capitalist market economy have gone out the window. Every brand, every Western government and every institution is set to transmit, not to receive. The result is universal bland and pseudo-ESG-consensus.
This presents huge opportunities for companies that do not take their customers for granted. People can hold differing views from the preferred narrative. People can be highly environmentally aware, without necessarily agreeing that the entire focus of policy should be on CO2 reduction or that we should be eating 3D printed steaks. People can be advocates for gay rights, without agreeing that the word “woman’ should be obliterated from marketing copy.
I think we’re at a tipping point. People are voting with their feet. Twitter’s traffic volume is at an all-time high. The mainstream media is losing to alternative media. People are publishing for themselves on Substack and Rumble. The best businesses know that they should treat their customers with respect and understand their thinking and their motivations. That’s how business was done in the past. It’s time to restore it. It’s time for businesses to be creating competitive advantage again.
Jeffrey Peel is Managing Director of Quadriga Consulting, the evidence based marketing consultancy.