I presume I am not the only person who likes to know something about the company and people I am dealing with.
If I am going to buy something from a company, the more I know the better. Who owns and runs the company? What are their backgrounds? Where is it based? What is its history?
This same curiosity led me to create the business information company that became Hoover’s, Inc. (now part of Dun & Bradstreet; see www.hoovers.com).
But it’s not just idle curiosity. When trying to pick between two (or more) possible sources of a product or service – whether for myself or for my company – being knowledgeable helps me make a better decision. Is this company likely to be around in a year? What is the probability the company will maintain whatever attitudes or standards I find appealing? Is it more likely to shrink or to grow? What is their mindset, what are their priorities? Do they have a history of innovation? Of focusing on the needs of customers?
These same questions become even more important if I am selling to a company, thinking about going to work there, competing with them, partnering with them, or considering an investment in the company.
Most companies today do an “okay” job of telling their own story, and a few do an outstanding job, all the way down to biographies and photos of many of the employees. But I am still surprised when I find a website that tells you very little or nothing – and this happens to me at least a few times each month as I wander the web.
Just the other day I wanted to know the story behind organic cereal maker Kashi, which seems to be a rising brand. Their website told me oh-so-little about the company. I was stunned to later find out they are wholly owned by Kellogg, and have been for several years – facts never touched on the Kashi website. Now Kellogg is a fine company with great products, but it is madness to try to hide something as important as your family tree! In this age of openness (“transparency”), it’s crazy to think people will not find out, and that they will not be a bit irritated when they do find out.
Such secrecy might be a little more palatable in the case of a private company like Mars, but it’s inexcusable in a big public company like Kellogg. I find most big public companies are proud of their operations, and their affiliation with good brand names.
The Kashi site also told me nothing about any of the management or employees. How can we forget that enterprise is, above all else, a human activity?
More often my frustration comes at the hands of smaller and “oughta’ be more entrepreneurial” companies. I have even found website design companies that nowhere talk about who their key designers are. Many companies give no credit to their founders, which is a real shame. Everyone would have a better understanding of capitalism and business formation if we knew the full stories of the trials and tribulations of the people who dream up innovations and make them happen.
Does your website – and your other marketing material – give adequate attention to the human side of your enterprise? To the people who make it work every day? To the people who touch your customers every day? Or are you just another cold economic machine that churns out faceless products and services, eager to become the next General Motors or Sears?
Addendum 10/22/09 — I just discovered that Procter & Gamble, one of my favorite companies, bought a small outfit called the Art of Shaving. Like Kashi and Kellogg, described above, I could find no mention of P&G’s ownership or its Gillette operations anywhere on the website, except as a business partner. The "about us" material talks about the business being guided by the passion of the founders. I find it hard to believe that my dear old P&G is getting this stupid. Do they not think curious people will find out, and be disenchanted with the whole P&G name when they do? Have they no pride in their company and what they stand for? Are the Art of Shaving people embarrassed to have sold out to P&G? What is going on with these companies, which are supposed to be smart marketers? I am not saying they have to make a big deal about who owns the company, but they sure shouldn’t hide it, either! I suggest they study such great companies as Federated Department Stores and American Home Products to see how to handle subsidiary brands. Both companies were very proifitable in their heydays, and did not use their corporate name on any stores or products, but they didn’t hide, either.