Brands and regulators: rethinking compliance

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Competing within the rules

It’s easy to see recent surges in regulation as a reaction to the corporate scandals of previous years and to characterise the return to a much more compliant environment as one of bureaucracy on a roll (and a role for that matter).

But one of the reasons re-regulation is back, surely, is that the world is moving away from a pure market forces model (driven by business) towards a marketplace model that incorporates drivers such as consumer rights, environmental concerns, ethics and responsibility. Whether you agree with the politics of this or not, that new marketplace model is much more sympathetic to a regulatory approach.

It’s also a sign of a shifting sense of consequences. The former model left it to the market within reason to decide what would and would not happen, pretty much relying on efficiency to sort out what needed to be rectified. The GFC proved that the market wasn’t the world’s greatest policeman and that sectors on a roll aren’t necessarily all that thorough about a whole bunch of things. This re-regulating marketplace model is much more determined to see consequences surveyed and if necessary handled by a third party – presumably so they’ll be more objective.

There’s a number of points here for marketers. The shift in the regulatory ground reveals two key transfers in attitude: a wish for action in key areas of societal concern; and a fundamental belief that companies require prompting in order for such actions to occur. The opportunity to address the first and correct the second of these attitudes is obvious.

There’s a lot at stake here potentally. Industries across the world, including sectors as diverse as telecommunications, food (particularly food safety), property, energy, transport, insurance, gaming, finance and agriculture, face mounting local and global marketplace regulation that could significantly impact revenue. The traditional approach has been adversarial: send in the lobbyists, play for time, negotiate for dispensations, redefine the language so that it’s meaningless – whilst all the time proclaiming the good works being done in CSR.

On reflection, both CSR and regulation are, at least nominally, focused on making the world a better place to live and trade in. Perhaps then, given how much is at stake (some estimates put revenue at risk potentially at up to 50%) if we were to re-read regulation as a signal for safeguards rather than just as constriction, there are opportunities for brands to re-rout their reputational objectives so that they are best aligned with the times and to merge stakeholder relations, innovation and marketing in order to identify and reinforce future economic value in this morphing marketplace landscape. Treat regulation and re-regulation in other words as another macro dynamic, with all the accompanying opportunities and challenges, rather than as just “the rules”. After all, regulation applies to everyone, including competitors.

That adjustment, it seems to me, requires an outreach programme that engages not just the board and investors but also regulators themselves, NGOs, industry associations, consumer groups and other influencers, and calls for converged conversations internally between top decision makers, legal, comms, products, R&D and marketers. New rules in the marketplace require new approaches and attitudes – moving from “What are they doing, and how can we stop them?” to “Where’s the world going, when can we get there first and how can we claim the high ground?”

Photo of “Ruler” taken by Scott Akerman, sourced from Flickr

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