Gentle Giants: Open Versus Closed Leadership

Nurturing traits that lead to trust are not only found in relationships between giraffes, but also between companies and customers–especially in the twenty-first century. Today CEOs must take a more engaging approach with customers. They must end the unilateral approach that occasionally offers a survey or focus group and move forward to provide a more interactive Web 2.0 approach that figuratively puts the customer on the board of advisors.

The United States endured the values of the “mad men” of the 1960s with the dominant “me” attitude. Back then the consumer was considered to be stupid. The “mad men” told the consumer to go buy Tide because it was the best product, and the consumer had few options but to go buy Tide as directed.

Consumer trust (rather than fear) is vital to consumers when they make selections today, and their trust will continue to grow because technology is an enabler. To buy a car, house, vacuum cleaner, or even a garden hose, most seek advice from friends to gather trusted information about where to go and what to watch for so they don’t get gutted by the lingering “mad men” out there.

There’s fresh evidence that change is occurring, with small businesses and international corporations shifting their focus from just selling to seeking out what truly helps customers. The company Simplisafe launched an inexpensive way to offer wireless security systems to apartment tenants, a product that works with cell phones and allows renters (who previously never had an inexpensive security option) to take the product with them when they move.

Bornfree, which produces BPA-free bottles, continues to innovate for the least-powerful on earth—babies—by offering a venting system that reduces the air infants suck in as they drink a bottle, while also decreasing irritation and even the risk of illness.

Darn Tough Vermont took on the sock industry by creating a sports sock using “merino wool and more stitches per inch than rivals.” Even though the cost is fifteen to twenty dollars per pair, the product has a lifetime guarantee and is popular due to the socks’ fit, comfort, and durability. Creating better socks for intensely active customers has contributed to two-thirds of Darn Tough Vermont’s revenue.

In the CNN.com article “Can P&G Make Money in Places Where People Earn $2 a Day?” Jennifer Reingold reports that on the corporate side Procter and Gamble (P&G) has invested money in research and development to learn more about the world’s poor, a developing market that is increasing from 6 percent to 8 percent annually, whereas the developed world market is rising more slowly—from 1 percent to 2 percent in 2011. CEO and Chairman Robert McDonald said that P&G’s long-term goal consists of “touching and improving more lives, in more parts of the world, more completely” in a sincere effort to increase “purpose-inspired growth.”

It’s a lookout-post idea that requires the company to spend more research and development money to continue to learn about the world’s poor, the underserved, and customers who earn two dollars each day. P&G researchers helped reduce stereotypes after they spent time in homes in countries such as Brazil, China, and India. They discovered that the poor don’t want simple products but aspire for access to products such as those created for the middle class and the rich. Since they spend hours outside, they need low-cost skin-care products and shampoo rather than the harsh soap they’ve used for decades. They too wish to look beautiful at that future job interview.

P&G is taking an anthropological research method instead of the historical we-build-it-and-they-will-come marketing approach. Today P&G gets a third of its sales from developing regions, up from 20 percent in 2000. CEO Robert McDonald wants to raise that percentage to 50 percent by 2020. This revenue wouldn’t have shown up on the company’s spreadsheets if P&G’s leaders hadn’t invested time and money to learn more about the needs of the world’s poor.

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