Building An Attractive Corporate Image

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A cynic is a person who, when he or she sees flowers, he or she thinks only of a funeral instead of romance or love. With a lot going on in our country, any mention of positive developments can be drained by cynics who do not hesitate to creep out of the woodwork dissipating any euphoria that may be attached to such positive outcomes. Such positive news can be quickly drowned by naysayers in a fashion couched with an inexplicable self-hate that hopes for national failure as if those cynics would be insulated from the ravages of such a negative outcome. They behave as if they are oblivious to the fact that national failure impacts on them just as hard as it impacts on some of their foes.

It is not all gloom and doom in our beloved Zimbabwe. Many people risk missing opportunities from their actions or inactions! Do not join the choruses of negativity when the melodies of positivity are sweet. Be an eternal optimist who is given to seeing the glass as half-full. Never tire of believing in better times ahead. Opportunity is malleable and in excess abundance if you tune your mind to look for it. Never forget that above the clouds of despair, the sun is always shining. Admittedly, I must emphasise here that it is no measure of good health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick system or society.

Cynicism used to be quite an intellectual pursuit. It never had the negativity associated with it these days. Today, only the most stone-hearted think of cynicism as an out and out virtue. All too often, cynicism is the refuge of those who have no ideas to proffer, no insights to bring, and faith in their own capacity to actually do anything. Which is quite sad because in Ancient Greece, cynicism was an influential movement that counted amongst its followers Antisthenes, who was a contemporary of the thinker Plato and student of the highly respected Socrates. Among its followers were Diogenes of Sinope and Crates of Thebes.

Cynicism as a movement pre-occupied itself with a system of beliefs that focused on living a life of virtue and in agreement with nature. This meant that followers of the movement were of the opinion that every day’s desire for power, wealth, and other very human inclinations were not the most important things in life. The cynics of Ancient Greece led what they said was a simple life. Many of them left their homes to live on the streets without any source of income. They lived on the goodwill of their fellow man. That was not all, the cynics of yore believed that the world belonged to all people and that the only reason there was any suffering in the world was because people simply did not care about each other and were too consumed by selfish pursuits.

However, they also had the same sharp tongues that appear to be the only thing they bequeathed on the cynics of today. And perhaps therein lies the association of negativity that characterises cynicism today. One of the most famous and certainly most acerbic cynics of those times was the aforementioned Diogenes of Sinope. The story goes that Diogenes of Sinope used to walk around in broad daylight while carrying a lit lamp aloft. When people asked him what he needed a lantern for during the day, he is said to have replied, “I am just looking for an honest man.” And he reportedly never found one. That, in a nutshell, is a history of cynicism.

It is a very human foible to be comfortable in the familiar. We derive great comfort from having an “acceptable“ way of doing things, following tradition and hiding behind convention. For many, the unknown and new ways hold much fear, even if we like to brag about living in an age of innovation that gives us technological toys to occupy our time every day. Most people just find solace in formulas and rigidity.

Neo-liberal economists posit that capital is a coward that has a penchant of taking to its heels at the slightest sign of danger. Many stakeholders of corporate entities in Zimbabwe cannot distinguish reality from perception. Admittedly, it is an indisputable fact that in some markets, value, opportunity and profit lay in identifying the dichotomy between image and reality. Sadly, very few stakeholders have the unique and special skills of separating reality from perception. For the rest of the majority of corporate entities’ stakeholders, perception is taken as the actual reality. As corporate leaders in our country go about their business activities, it would be folly to take a casual approach on the images of their companies to their internal and external stakeholders. If the image of a company is left to the whims and dictates of public interpretation, this will be dangerous as it leaves the business vulnerable to any position taken by society at large. 

A company’s image can affect its market value, credit ratings, supplier relationships, customers, employees, shareholders and potential financiers amongst many stakeholders. Sometimes, certain negative information and image may not reflect the true value of a company. However, it would be difficult for any company without a robust public relations and corporate affairs’ communication policy to counter any negative or biased information which is hostile against it through the grapevine or in the public domain. Often, the information in the public domain or grapevine is the one which is often taken at face value and wholeheartedly by a company’s stakeholders much to the detriment of the said company.

Assumptions can form the basis on which the value of a company is hinged on by its stakeholders now and into the future. Corporate leaders need to observe how some economic agents in the first world markets take their communication with all their stakeholders seriously. Our business leaders can glean a lot from the way those beyond our borders steer their business ships supported by solid communication functions and strategies in order to send the right signals to the market which can give them their intended outcomes and responses from such markets.

There is a lot of corporate information which our business leaders should disclose to the market as not relaying such information may attract suspicion with false conclusions from its stakeholders. Of particular interest to our corporate leaders is how the economic agents in the USA communicate with the market. For instance, the US Federal Reserve Monetary Policy meeting and minutes are of particular interest to all capital markets in the developed world. As such, and with due attention, the US Federal Reserve releases such minutes timeously to the market leaving no room for mindless speculation. Such announcements could be about interest rates or other monetary policy instruments. After the release of such information, the market immediately responds to any policy position. The issue of interest rates’ direction is always of interest to the market before and after the eventual announcement. Even mere intentions to raise, maintain or cut interest rates is taken seriously by both the market and the US central bank.  

Corporate leaders should also consider the way economic agents in the USA relay information about jobs’ growth, unemployment levels, purchasing managers’ index, consumer confidence index, industrial output levels such as the automotive industry or oil industry, unemployment income claims from the Federal government which are averaging 2 million every week at the moment, mortgage applications, SEC filings by investors or shareholders as well as listed companies and those seeking to list. After the dissemination of such data into the market, various economic stakeholders take their necessary and befitting positions proving that such data is perceived as sufficient reality on which they can calibrate their corporate strategies.  

As an example of weak communication strategies and policies, our central bank seems bereft of the right communication strategies which is why the RBZ is always back peddling and on the defensive mode to some information in the social media space. I posit that more can be done by our central bank in order to communicate with all the economic agents in our country. Surely, we do not need a monetary policy to supervise the RBZ communication policy. An independent or autonomous central bank backed by savvy communication consultants can do better to inspire confidence in our economy with little political intervention which at the private corporate level, I would equate to board intervention which is not necessary. Management should just be supported by the board as they drive the communication policy of the company. Management should disclose all the important performance metrics or indicators without the need to be taken to task by some stakeholders to disclose vital information on the defensive mode. The struggle of influencing company’s stakeholders is not a stroll in the park. Savvy corporate leaders need to accept that image derived from some information is taken as fact not fiction by a company’s stakeholders. As such, companies need to own their narratives. In this information game and age, as long as the tale of the hunt is told by the hunter, it will always glorify the hunter not the lion. Our corporates lions have to roar in order for their voice to be heard above the fake hunters who are good at hunting rats.

With our country’s rumour mill which is currently in overdrive or logjam, corporate leaders need tact and diplomacy in the way they communicate with their internal and external stakeholders. Business entities must be of a convincing quality standard and image in order to attract multiple-stakeholder buy-in. Corporate leaders need to project their company images well for them to attract the interest and support of important economic agents or partners. Deficiencies in best business practices, global competitiveness, modern technology, good corporate governance, erudite management and other factors can make business less attractive to important current and potential partners of our business entities.

It is poignant for corporate leaders to ask themselves how some of their companies’ stakeholders would place them on the reputation and legacy ladder. What would come to people’s minds when they hear their companies’ names? Is it disruptive innovation, sticking to tradition, adherence to quality standards, price affordability, corruption-ridden, hospitable staff with exquisite customer service, reliability and other factors?

All the aforementioned factors point to the need for companies to develop and manage their corporate brands and image as an integral element in their interactions with their internal stakeholders such as employees and external stakeholders such as financiers or shareholders for the attainment of positive business outcomes. You cannot develop your company with a dark cloud of a poor corporate image hovering above you. Corporate image building and maintenance should cease being the least of corporate priorities especially in recession times where marketing budgets are given scant attention but the need for sales backed by optimum production and more finance is heightened. It is unfortunate that corporate image does not get the attention it rightfully deserves from some corporate leaders. In fact, it is during these times that companies should engage the services of media and image consultancy firms in order to manage and build their corporate brands well. The onus, therefore, squarely lies in the hands of business leaders to start taking corporate images seriously, as one of the indispensable elements in the growth of their companies. Corporate image building consists of developing the image of a company and communicating it, both internally and externally, based on a company’s values and vision.

It is easy to be a cynic and a critic in our times. In Zimbabwe, it is a growth industry that, we must all admit, is to a good extent the result of years of deprivation and disillusionment. The way the ruling and opposition politics of this country was and is being handled, even as the economy burned and elderly people slept overnight in bank queues in the hope of getting a meagre cash withdrawal the next day was and is enough to create an army of cynics.

Amidst all these challenges, it would be folly for corporate leaders to resign the fate or destiny of their companies’ images to chance and the whims of whoever cares. The turn of events should be a cause for a confident corporate brand optimism that spurs each and every business leader to put his or her shoulder to the wheel and put in an honest shift. The truth is that building an attractive corporate image is not a job for the marketing department of any company alone, the task requires all company’s hands on deck.

Everyone within any business entity has a role to play and for the corporate executives, their role is to set the agenda and lead from the front. How business leaders conduct themselves has a huge bearing on whether or not the hopeful business triumphs over the cynical. Are we honest in our business practices? Do we ignore or worse still, encourage corruption? Do we put in an honest day’s work at our various stations or we are laggards who only mark time until month end for another underserved pay cheque? Are we paying our taxes as is expected of us in our various sectors? At ports of entry, how far do we go to avoid giving ZIMRA what is due to it? Are we giving our employees, shareholders and suppliers a fair payment for their involvement in our business activities?

Everything we do in our business and professional practices has an incremental bearing on the direction our companies take, for better or worse. Let us not take the easy route of cynicism and sit back while expecting the marketing department to manage and build our corporate image alone. It is to our own edification to change the way we do things as business leaders. If not for us, let us do it for posterity as gifts to bequeath to our legacies and future generations of corporate executives.

Malvin Chidzonga (Financial Analyst)

Malvin Chidzonga is an innovative and dynamic finance and investment practitioner. He has extensive exposure and experience in the whole spectrum of the financial service sector. He is animated by the desire to optimally explore, identify and create financial advancement opportunities for people and organizations by harnessing financial potential inherent in them as well as connecting various dots, opening doors and shining the spotlight on them in order to craft great outcomes for society at large. He began his financial service career at Agribank, then joined CFX and Interfin Bank before his stint with Jiang Xing Trading Co in Beijing, China. Upon his return to Zimbabwe, he joined Zimnat Lion Insurance before moving to Comarton Consultants. Whilst at Comarton, he worked with Atchison Actuarial Consultants on the crafting of several financial models for various non-financial organizations. Amongst other posts he has, he is the current Principal Officer of the Sports Industry Pension Fund, a position he has held since the Fund’s formation in 2013. He is now a full-time member of the Nivteil Financial Ventures’ team.  

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