Saturday, April 10, 2010

"Undercover Boss" Proves Benefits of Being "Human" by Companies

I love the new reality TV show Undercover Boss. Partly because I'm a constant student of business management (Yes, I like Peter Drucker and Jack Welch books too). If you haven't seen the CBS show, it about executives at large companies going undercover and work "in the trenches" for a week to see how their operations is really doing. Executives from big brands such as 7-Eleven, Waste Management, Churchill Downs, Chemed (Roto Rooter), and...Hooters have been on the show.

While I think it's gotten formulaic with the executive discovering and recognizing that unsung hero to the rogue manager that is a borderline harassment lawsuit waiting to happen, it's still good TV and reflective of the spectrum of talent you'd find in every large company.

Today, the WSJ ran an article correlating the lift in stock price of many of the companies that have been featured on the show and how they have beaten the S&P. I'm not writing about investment strategies here, but more about customer expectations today and the brand halo effect from Americans seeing executives as "real people."

Waste Management, which was featured in February, saw traffic on its site go up in a few notable areas -- a 256% increase in "become a customer" inquiries, 98% increase in Careers page, and inbound email doubled! Not to mention it's stock is up 9.3%. I believe this is due to "humanizing" the company and executives.

This is about more than a hit show. It's a growing trend that consumers are seeking more transparency from companies today and in a crowded marketplace, any differentiation is a competitive advantage. And social media has been a driving force behind this! Whether it's 'straight talk' on corporate blogs (such as when GM's CEO blogged during its bankruptcy proceedings) or responding to customers on Twitter, consumers expect it and want more of it. eMarketer recently found that consumers trust brands in social media, second only to peers. They even trust brands who are directly speaking to them more than media.

And engaging with consumers in social media actually pays, according to a recent Chadwick Martin Bailey study. It said consumers are more likely to to buy from brands they fan on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Whether you buy into this theory or not, I recommend you at least catch Undercover Boss on CBS. It sure beats Celebrity Apprentice!


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