How we are is who we are

Published on
October 14, 2012

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There is no escaping scrutiny today. How we are is who we are.*
When a nuclear physicist, a theoretical physicist and an engineering scientist argue for the critical importance of social acceptance and stakeholder engagement at an energy industry innovation event, you know the days of lubricating public consent with football team sponsorships or prizes at the annual rodeo are over.

At the most recent energy-focused Innovation Series event in Brisbane, the focus was on innovating for social acceptance. CSIRO’s Dr Alex Wonhas, Arrow Energy’s Hilary Mercer and APPEA’s Chief Operating Officer, Rick Wilkinson, all argued that using innovation to make the energy business more socially and environmentally acceptable, and for engaging communities of stakeholders along the way, is non-negotiable.

Acceptance comes from trust and engagement. Your stakeholders need to know who you are, and they need to see you deliver on your brand promise at every touchpoint.

Who you are—the substance of your ‘brand’ or reputation—is endorsed or contested every time a company vehicle is seen on the roads, when one of your people talks to an involved member of the public, when you show up at an event, or every time you appear in the media. Each interaction is a ‘moment of truth’ and represents another opportunity to prove or disprove the claims you make about who you are.

Promises about products, services, people and effectiveness are also made through your advertising, your website and how you describe yourselves in marketing collaterals, Annual Reports and more. These are promises you must keep. The experience you deliver, how you act, what you do, and how you communicate all describe who you really are.

The Queensland mining industry may be instructive in this regard. The vitality of the resources sector has, until recently, been intoxicating.  We have been told fistfuls of facts about job opportunities in the thousands and investment values in the millions.  These are abstract facts for many stakeholders. Most people can’t picture these concepts and more importantly, can’t put themselves in that picture.   Promises articulated as abstract facts don’t have much meaning without a compelling narrative—an authentic story—that stakeholders can see themselves in and, most importantly, see delivered.

To tolerate any kind of change, especially one that could cause significant personal inconvenience like traffic delays, noise, dust, and so on, stakeholders must be given a clear sense of the benefits that will come to them directly and indirectly. They need to be told how and why they should consent and what their acceptance will deliver. The ‘telling’ must be more than a list of impressive but abstract facts.

Every organisation competing in the heated and hyper-connected 21st century information marketplace must work hard to find some space to be heard, to carve out some share of voice, and to cut through the overcrowded and noisy channels to reach an intended audience.

The bottom line is, in a world where who you are is fundamental to trust and engagement, you have to have a compelling, authentic stakeholder–centric story, and you have to deliver.

*Arthur W Page Society (2012).  Building belief: a new model for activating corporate character and authentic advocacy, p. 5.