Commentary

Marketers Must Make CSR The New CRM

Is there a change in the air? If there is, it's no thanks to cowardly brands that won't ram home the message they are doing the right thing, and it's no thanks to successive governments that talk loud on CSR but do very little. It just seems that this has been a week for the person in the street to vocalise their feelings about the misdemeanours of big business.

Top of the list is, of course, Google and its derisory tax settlement. However, it goes deeper than that. Just look at the furore over Tesco being caught out for doing what everyone with half a brain knew it was famous for -- driving suppliers to the edge by withholding payments. Great for the giant's cash flow and quarterly results, but potentially terminal for the SME. The Tesco thing gets even worse when you lift the lid. The industry's watchdog even found evidence that the chain had charged suppliers for campaigns which hadn't taken place.

In case you weren't aware, although you almost certainly are, the supermarket giants are past masters as getting suppliers to pay for ads they are featured in. They quite literally get to have their proverbial cake and eat it Mind you, it did all amount up in the end to the supermarket having a "black hole" of more than GBP300m caused by eventually have to pay people for produce that has been supplied up to a year earlier.

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Financial wrongdoing aside, the lesson here for big brands is that people are genuinely shocked at how bad big business sometimes behaves. If you want to know another one that needs to watch its back, I'll give you a name -- Boots. It may have drastically improved its payment regime in the past few months -- you never know -- but whenever I've looked in o the subject it nearly always tops the "bad payers" list of shame. So, we'll see, but if there's another name to be outed in keeping unfavourable payment terms that cause smaller suppliers to struggle, it would be my best bet.

Which brings us neatly to the point. Way over nine in ten British businesses are SMEs. Large companies may employ a lot of people but, actually, the vast majority of businesses are small or medium in size. That means that the type of companies that large guys try to screw down on pricing, and then send them into the red when they withhold payments, are exactly the kind of businesses their customers work for.

You get the same "this just isn't fair" feeling from these antics that you experience when the person on the street is fined for making an accidental miscalculation or getting a tax return in late, yet someone like Google can use every loophole in the book to avoid paying tax and then still gets a thumbs up when it's rumbled and pays a fraction of what it should rightfully owe. Let's not forget, as the tax deadline of January 31st looms, that nearly everyone reading this will be paying more in income tax than Facebook paid last year in corporation tax. Yeah, I know -- it's absolutely bonkers, isn't it.

So it's a slow burn. The Hargrave household are doing our bit by always favouring Costa over Starbucks and shopping whenever possible in the co-operatively owned John Lewis and Waitrose. They're not only the best brands, in my opinion, but you know they're treating staff well and they're not trying to screw over the tax man. But who am I kidding -- we use Facebook and search on Google too, and next-day delivery from Amazon always wins over our conscience, which dictates we should be ordering from WHSmith online. We're getting there, however, --and so should you.

The big guys are routinely paranoid that the latest start-up will replace them for the very good reason that this is how they got to the top. I wonder, however, whether they are sufficiently paranoid about customers. Our politicians are useless; we know they won't hold big companies to account. Labour will blurt one-liners at the Tories, but all this happened on their watch too. So consumers will realise it really is up to us to reward the companies that try to do the right thing and most certainly don't actively go out to do the wrong thing. It's ironic, isn't it, that "don't be evil" has been replaced by the more proactive "do the right thing" as Google's mantra. How this squares with how it behaves is anyone's guess.

There's one thing missing here, however. The big guys doing the right thing need to take the front foot. Why on earth does WH Smith not launch ads pointing out how they can't match Amazon for price because they are a physical British store chain paying full UK tax. Same question for Costa. Why sit back -- take the fight to Starbucks.

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