Behind every brand, there is a story. At least, this is true for the most prominent brands you can think of: Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Nintendo. It doesn’t matter if Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates didn’t really start from scratch with a garage for an office - the mere concept of small steps growing into something big and groundbreaking is enough to inspire entrepreneurs and motivate them to bring their own ideas to life. Which is definitely not a bad thing.
However, modern brand stories consist of more than tales of brave trailblazers that made great achievements.
They also include humanity 🙌.
Nowadays, to be successful and accepted, a company needs a human face - a genuine human face, not a mask of concern and awareness. The internet allowed information to spread extremely quickly, making it almost impossible for people across the world to stay unaware of each other’s suffering, grief, and losses. To do something about it, to make a small contribution towards reducing that suffering is a natural human instinct. Therefore, the companies that ignore that very modern and very human need risk more than a couple of negative reviews. They risk losing the never-ending competition and ending up at the back of the bus.
We won’t be sharing any professional or marketing tips in this blog post. Instead, we will muse on businesses leaving Russia to express solidarity with Ukraine and explain why business reputation and morality matter more than one might think.
Solidarity or peer pressure?
Currently, almost 1,000 large companies have curtailed their business in Russia since the beginning of the war with Ukraine. By large we mean major players, such as Maersk, one of the largest global shipping companies, the pharmaceutical giant Bayer, and Atlassian, the developer behind Jira and many other tools for organizing the workflow of companies and businesses across the globe.
🤔 Leaving a profitable market is not an easy decision - the loss of revenue, the headache of shutting down the offices, and relieving or relocating staff…for some business owners, nothing is worth so much trouble. This is why the massive exodus left many observers skeptical. Some people state that the companies weren’t actually leaving, just biding their time and waiting for the moment when they can come back safely. Others believe that most of the companies never left and just re-branded their offices in Russia to continue working under a different name. The general consensus stated that for many it was hard to believe that businesses would choose morality over profit - wars start and end, but revenue must flow. If not for the sanctions and the peer pressure from the consumers expressing their extreme dissatisfaction with companies staying in the terrorist country, the businesses would have never left of their own volition.
This skepticism might be true for some companies - we don’t know that for sure. However, contrary to popular opinion, businesses may withdraw from problematic markets for more reasons than peer pressure.
The recent years exposed our vulnerability. As businesses and companies were adjusting to the new conditions and challenges imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, they discovered their consumer’s need for something more than stability and profit - it was the need for humanity. As people were confined to their homeplaces and effectively isolated from their usual routine, they became extremely attentive to the way brands presented themselves. Those who failed to acknowledge or respect the emotional and mental pressure their target audience was going through, were discarded and heavily criticized.
In other words, businesses had to become more human in order to stay in the game - at least, if they hoped to stay in the game for long.
But what does it mean - to be human?
- Treat your customers like human beings. “The customer is always right” this saying remained relevant nowadays because it’s 100% true. Your sales process should revolve around your customer’s needs. However, the concept of customer has evolved. Obsolete sales models had a very superficial idea of clients and did bother with diving into their mentality and insecurities or getting concerned with their problems. After all, it wasn’t the part of doing business. However, modern sales processes pay a lot of attention to what’s on their target audience’s mind - even if those things had nothing to do with sales. The reason for that change is that there are many factors that influence buying decisions and choices - they can be related to your prospects’ personal lives and global changes i.e. matters beyond your control and seemingly none of your business. ❗️ Still, ignoring them entirely will push your valuable prospects away from you and won’t contribute to your brand image.
- Don’t be pushy. In the world of B2B, it goes without saying that if you don’t treat your prospects with tact and respect, you deserve to lose all your prospects and stay with an empty sales funnel. However, some B2B marketers and sales reps still can get impatient and become more persistent in their attempt to convert as many leads as possible by the end of the quarter. That results in rushed and even forceful nurturing and teams missing the point of their sales message and unique value proposition. The main symptom of such harmful behavior is that sales representatives forget to give your prospects the initiative. They don’t ask them how are they doing, they don’t offer to speak their mind, and even try to prevent them from saying “no” to the offer. This is not something B2B buyers will forgive.
- Show empathy. Humans are smart. Your target audience is smart. They can tell the difference between genuine care and fake concern. So, when you touch on a subject that is very sensitive to your target group, you should be sincere and dedicated 🙏, otherwise, you’ll end up sinking low in the eyes of your target audience. The same goes for ignoring the sensitive subject or event altogether - people no longer trust businesses that don’t interact with the world around them and ignore everything except for their profit. After all, if a business is callous enough to throw someone’s suffering under the bus and go on without a care in the world, can it really be considered reliable? Can it really understand its target audience and buyers? Can it really be trusted?
What do all these factors have to do with companies leaving the Russian market because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
In fact, they have a lot to do in the current situation.
Businesses that are aware of their surroundings, understand such things as a long-term effect. They know that each step they take right now makes waves that will catch them years later. When it comes to situations where a company has either to show their morality and make an unprofitable decision or ignore the crisis in favor of their revenue, the latter seems like a better option for business. And it may be - in a short-term perspective. From a long-term perspective, the company is guaranteed to lose a lot more than it earns.
First of all, a fraction of buyers in other markets will cut ties ✖️ with the company that chose profit over ethics. And it’s not just loud words.
- The Mintel research showed that 56% of American buyers stop buying products from the companies they deem unethical.
- The 2018 Conscious Spending Index revealed that 59% of buyers preferred to purchase goods and services from socially and ethically responsible vendors.
- The OpenText survey conducted in the UK has shown that over 50% of UK buyers admitted that they won’t work with unethical vendors.
As we mentioned above, your buyers are smart. They do their homework. They wouldn’t mind spending some time researching a company, its products or services, and how its unethical behavior impacts human beings before they make their buying decision. They would also refer ethical businesses to their fellow buyers and warn them against working with unethical businesses - this is how brand reputation works.
Second, the long-term consequences will settle in. Aside from the moral aspect of not pulling out of the country guilty of war terror, the companies are guaranteed to encounter the following issues.
- Accumulating a bad reputation. 🤯 “Once it's on the internet, it’s there forever”.
We’re living in unprecedented times, when every moment of a full-scale war in Europe is documented, captured on camera, and available online. The same goes for the behavior of businesses during wartime. The names of the companies that stayed and the names of the companies that decided to make a statement will be known to every buyer willing to spend at least a couple of minutes on Google. That fact alone can and will be used by potential competitors. As the era of more human businesses continues, new competitors will step in, offering the same product with better quality, a better story, and better ethics. Who would want to deal with a company that chose profit over ethics once, when there are credible and reliable players around?
- Becoming a dangerous employer. Going back to the Russian-Ukrainian war scene, we could observe a rather negative response of Russian authorities to the companies leaving the Russian market - it involved threats of staff arrests, asset seizures, and other kinds of “penalties”. While those threats were directed at brands that made up their minds about leaving their market, it also was a grim warning for the companies still on the fence about cutting ties with Russia. Good business partnerships are built on mutual respect 🤝, trust, and safety. Agreeing to work with a partner only because they threaten you and your assets is far from healthy - it means letting them affect your business practices as well as endangering your property and employees. The latter won’t look good for other potential business partners. Also, the company that agreed to continue working with a shady and aggressive client is guaranteed to have issues with hiring high-value specialists - they would prefer a more secure work environment. In the end, the company loses valuable human resources and connections due to not leaving a potentially toxic and dangerous market.
We’ll be honest, it’s hard to break down all the long-term consequences of not cutting ties with a country that started the largest war since WW2 - this is an unprecedented event that we’re observing right here, right now. However, these two effects, mentioned above are the most obvious ones - and they’re happening already.
Another reason why businesses would leave the market and choose their reputation over profits is that they understand the necessity to show their ability to make a difference.
The modern human-to-human approach demands businesses and companies to do more. Companies are encouraged to keep growing, to become stronger - and to use that strength responsibly, for making the entire world a friendlier place. For that reason, so many businesses use recyclable materials and donate to humanitarian organizations that are very serious about their contribution to reducing the carbon imprint and supporting local communities. This way, they show how much they can do beyond their limits and make a change.
Due to this, when the push comes to shove, remaining indifferent to the crisis is perceived as weakness - basically, the business admits its inability to make a strong decision and hold its ground. And if such a business builds its tagline, message, and code of conduct around strong values (think of Google’s “Don’t be evil”), it’s even more catastrophic. If a company fails to follow its own message, how it can be trusted?
The world has changed. It keeps changing at an incredibly fast pace. However, even in the middle of the chaos and crisis, there is one thing that is clear and undisputed - morality matters . Actions speak louder than words and humanity is as valuable as ever. Business owners have to face hard, complicated choices that may impact their roadmap and/or their reputation - but the way how they make their choices is guaranteed to define their image and their future in their industry.
This is why we must emphasize the importance of staying human. The chaos, the uncertainty, the crisis - all of it will end at some point, leading to many businesses and entities re-evaluating their approaches and being seen from a new perspective. Those who showed empathy, humanity, and the ability to do an ethical choice even at the cost of their profit will be seen as new pillars for the new and improved world, where connection, communication, and cooperation builds on respect, trust, and safety.