Category Archives: Blogs & News

Does ‘Fake News’ Impact on British Business?

Fake news image 2

It’s official! ‘The internet has been named the most important human invention of all time.’  Easy to believe, isn’t it?  It’s hard to remember what we did before the worldwide web existed and what we’d do without it.

But is this true? Is this really a fact? If you ‘Google it’ you can see this ‘fact’ confirmed but further research shows that it is just a blogger’s personal view.  Fake news on a small scale maybe, but proof that we should always take what we read online with at least a small pinch of salt.

But not all fake news is as innocuous. Many articles have raised concerns about the high level of consumer trust in Google search responses given that its algorithm can and does deliver wrong and misleading ‘facts’ from third-party sites when we ask more complex questions, for example, around political issues.  Furthermore, the increasing use of internet-connected voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home will offer an even narrower set of responses as people come to rely on a robotic voice to deliver answers to their questions, rather than conduct internet research themselves.

In a relatively short space of time, the internet has completely revolutionised the way we receive our information, news, and views, and is the quickest research resource imaginable.  This is especially useful for those in business to have all the most useful information instantly available at their fingertips. Companies can read about market predictions online, establish the financial status of other companies before they choose to deal with them, quickly check on their reliability, read reviews about their products and services and pinpoint their physical address.  Business is now digitally driven and all the better for it.

All well and good but what happens when our trust of this information breaks down?  What are the real consequences for business when we cannot automatically believe what we read when we are faced with ‘fake news’?

Fake news has existed long before now, but became a global phenomenon in 2016 with the election of US President Donald Trump and the Brexit vote which will see the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.  With these controversial events, which both have considerable consequences for the business world, fake news has arisen from a hidden corner in the online world to reveal itself: bigger, bolder, and more scandalous than ever on mainstream media platforms.  Fake news is so predominant today that it has substantially affected the way people trust mass media.

So how do British businesses view what they read online?  Do companies view the culture of fake news/post-truth as potentially damaging to business? And how will the new rise of fake news affect their business decision-making?

A recent business poll (February 2017) undertaken by the Sainsbury Management Fellows’ research panel showed that the British business community takes the emergence of fake news very seriously and are working hard to counter it.

Asked, do business leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their senior managers separate fake and factual news when making business decisions?

  • 69.39% said yes, they do. Managers must not be swayed by headlines and ensure that decisions are based on evidence/facts (eg through research, due diligence)
  • 18.37% said yes, they have a responsibility, however, their business decisions are not influenced by media or social media headlines
  • 10.20% said no, it is a manager’s sole responsibility to ensure his/her decision is based on correct information

SMF research panellist, Nick Laird commented: “Good business decisions are always a blend of fact and judgement. The two need to be separated, but both need consideration. Subtle opinion-driven issues can change the context within which a business operates, and thereby change the objective facts: and impact the best decision to take. Leadership is about uncovering and separating the most relevant fact, balancing their value(s) and weight(s), and then adding a layer of judgement on top”.

Raivat Luthra, another panel member warned about the rise of fake news: “It’s one of the biggest issues being faced by business leaders in recent times. Fake/unreliable news is influencing the decision-making abilities of employees in (mostly) a negative way. Perhaps this is something which needs to be tackled via education”.

The panel was also asked about Brexit and recent media coverage:

Are the media headlines/emotions around Brexit affecting your business more than the underlying trading essentials?

  • 50.88% said no – despite the media headlines and lack of clarity about the form Brexit will take, they are continuing with business as usual.
  • 36.48% said yes – feeling that conflicting media headlines causes uncertainty, making them less confident about pushing ahead with trading decisions.

Panellist David Bell commented on the rise of talking points in media coverage: “Post-truth is a direct emotional appeal, where usual arguments based on facts and data are discarded in favour of talking points seemingly immune to factual rebuttal. These talking points can shift the debate on key issues for businesses, such as Brexit, through a combination of media false balance, the 24-hour news cycle, and filter bubbles created by social media. Rebuttals to post-truth arguments are commonly rejected as smears or scaremongering, without qualification, thus making regular debate more challenging”.

The overall answers showed that most UK businesspeople felt that they can continue their business despite the abundance of fake news, but the margin between those who think fake news impedes business decision-making and those who think the opposite is small.

It’s certainly a business issue we are all too aware of now that fake news has hit the headlines. Panellist Eric Duclos puts things into perspective: “Fake information, or simply wrong information, is nothing new. Any business must take careful account of sources and methodology before using any data for decision-making”.

Some, like panellist Philippe Mandangi, believe there is a positive side to the discussion: “The abundance of news, fake or truth, is a good thing for business so long as business managers take the trouble to analyse each bit of information that goes through their desks in the process of decision making. Gut feeling is not scientifically proven, but a lot of managers still use it to make business decisions”.

The final word on the topic goes to SMF Chris Ambler, who makes this shrewd observation: “Separating fact from assumption is critical to making good business decisions. If you evidence your position, fake news should not become an issue.”

if you are a business professional and would like to join our business survey panel, email askus@fortunepr.co.uk.

Can unicorn startups thrive whilst ignoring regulation?

a worker asks for a transition to a patch on a piggy bank, but receives only a tease

The world of tech startups is peppered with stories of overconfident, brilliant entrepreneurs who disrupt the way business is done in traditional sectors, transforming consumer behaviour and challenging current legislative frameworks, often with detrimental outcomes to their business as in the landmark Uber employment rights case.

High profile tech innovators are sometimes branded arrogant “jerks” who try to by-pass national regulations in order to achieve success. But is the fair? Is arrogance a prerequisite to achieving a major shift in consumer economic behaviour? The new Sainsbury Management Fellows Business Survey asked business leaders/entrepreneurs for their views on the behaviour of Unicorns (billion dollar valued start-ups), with some divergent views.

Arrogant or just determined? Divided opinion
Sixty-seven of the 150 opted-in panellists took part in the survey and 37.5% agreed that Unicorns in the sharing economy are arrogant in their compliance with regulation and interestingly, over 51% of all respondents said that a degree of arrogance is actually required for new technology startups in traditional markets to beat incumbents and grow.

Arrogance of Start ups Survey Question `1

Echoing similar views among the 51% of respondents, David Bell, an engineering graduate on Rolls-Royce’s development programme said, “In order to gain advantage in the sharing economy Unicorn startups had to exploit loopholes and gaps in existing rules to rapidly develop market share before regulators can act to prevent these unforeseen practices. While no specific company was put in the spotlight, Bell said that some of the tactics include ignoring regulator warnings, claiming new technology’s exemption from old rules, asking customers to lobby on their behalf, and asking for forgiveness and paying penalties after their market position has already been established.”

Arrogance of Start ups Survey Question 2

On the flip side, just over 42% of all panellists stated that arrogance is not a prerequisite for success and startups are misunderstood and the public should not “confuse arrogance with self-confidence.” In this group’s view, such startups are simply pushing boundaries, testing new models and finding new ways of competing with incumbents.”

No place for arrogance in business
Successful serial entrepreneur Chris Martin, CEO of ADC Therapeutics SA said, “There is no room for arrogance in business – startup or not. Some Unicorns I have worked with were best in class and so may have been perceived as arrogant when they were just very, very good.”

Sinead O’Sullivan, an MBA candidate at Harvard, an aerospace engineer and entrepreneur stated that it is vital that not all startups are painted “with the ‘arrogance’ brush.” Some tech startups are being led by millennials who can appear overconfident.”

While some startups can be arrogant, most aren’t. Some simply operate with supreme “self-confidence and dogged single-mindedness,” said Phil Strong, CEO at Zymbit.

The role of arrogance in business
Asked to name a company that behaves arrogantly, unprompted 18% of respondents named seven companies, with Uber taking pole position. The others were Prowler, Theranos, Avery Dennison, Airbnb, Tesla, and Dyson.

Led by CEO Travis Kalanick, Uber develops markets and operates the mobile app which provides on-demand taxi service, connecting passengers to cab drivers at much lower costs than other services. While many deem Kalanick to be a brilliant entrepreneur and legendary CEO, he is also generally perceived to operate in an arrogant way. While this arrogance is seen by some as negative, the trait is said to be rampant in Silicon Valley, with investors rewarding supposedly callous tactics with tons of capital. The view of the Uber leadership is that it consistently acts as if the company is above the law and the ethical norm.

Sinead O’Sullivan reinforced this point saying, “While misplaced confidence can be damaging to the reputation of a company, this behaviour is encouraged by “the way the whole venture capital game works.”

Demonstrating polarity of views, one entrepreneur, Nimesh Thakrar, CEO of Banneya gave Uber kudos for changing “the status quo of how we are currently operating in that [taxi] space”, and that policies and regulations “need to change and be reflective of the modern world we live in.” However, another young entrepreneur Farid Singh argued that the way Uber has gone about doing things has become “similar to dumping free inventory” and that while “regular taxi services run out of cash and have to shut down, they [Uber] start squeezing the drivers and raising their prices”. He believes that these practices have created an “unchecked monopoly”.

Airbnb, the world’s fourth largest startup is criticised for its supposed arrogance by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). The AHLA launched several campaigns to counter Airbnb’s so-called hypocrisy and to fight for “the need to curb illegal hotels and ensure a level playing field”. As one panellist stated, startups are not always good just because they’re new, claiming that “Airbnb has damaged B&B markets.”

In the final analysis…
While some of the SMF panellists deemed Unicorn startups as arrogant, others see this arrogance as merely a change in the way business and business owners are pacing themselves. Startup owners and operators are seen as bold movers and shakers who “challenge incumbents” and are in the business of “exploring new ways of solving old problems” said one panellist. The leaders of Unicorn startups are seen as new types of entrepreneurs who emphasise the need “to strive for survival and reproduction.”

Some respondents felt that the term “arrogance” is “emotionally charged” and has “strong negative overtones” and that society should be acknowledging their achievements; focusing on how these companies are pushing boundaries, testing new models, creating change and improving services for consumers.

Sainsbury Management Fellow and venture capitalist, James Raby argued that subverting regulation can be catastrophic for long term success. “Some startups regard regulation as the enemy. Because entrepreneurs are bringing new technology to the market, they think it is a protective shield from regulation. The standard response is to disavow regulation, yet everything that’s old is not necessarily bad. Startups should embrace regulation if they are serious about long-term success. They need to recognise that to work in real markets they must cooperate in a regulated market, as I’m sure the manufacturers of driverless cars will realise.

This means startups need to employ people who understand regulatory frameworks and the detail of how they apply in different markets and cultures. Without this depth of understanding, companies side-stepping regulation will be challenged and regulation will catch up with them.”

As SMF implores startups to re-think their approach to regulation, perhaps there is also a need for the regulators to improve their understanding of technology and be quicker at managing technology shifts.

photo (c) nuvolanevicata

Why isn’t my business attracting customers?

Why isn’t my business attracting customers

You have a great product, a committed and energetic team, and all the world’s marketing tools at your disposal – but your business just isn’t attracting customers.

This is a very common story, and it’s normal for most businesses and start-ups to go through a period where people simply do not seem interested in their product or service. There are lots of reasons for this. You may be up against large competitors, with whom your target audiences retain a lot of brand loyalty; alternatively, your product may not fit your market at all. One author goes as far as to argue that “the only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.” He separates the life of a company into two parts: before product/market fit (BPMF), and after product/market fit (APMF), imploring readers to “do whatever is required”, no matter how radical, “to get to product/market fit.”

Assuming you have reached product/market fit, the issue clearly becomes one of marketing and communications if customers still aren’t buying. First of all, it is important to remember that customers are not just persuaded by the perceived price of a product; they purchase a product based on its potential benefits and the changes they see it having on their life. Failure to communicate these benefits can result in a lack of customer awareness regarding the value of your product, its benefits, its accessibility, and how the product could meet their needs.

Good marketing, therefore, needs to communicate these messages as effectively as possible, and this can be accomplished through a wide variety of different means. At the base of every effective marketing strategy, though, is a strong valuable proposition. Let’s take a look at what that entails.

Developing strong value propositions
Your most successful competitors have the best value propositions. A useful definition of value propositions comes from Peter Sandeen, who argues a value proposition is “a believable collection of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and take the action you’re asking for.” Communicating these reasons to your target market is a vital step in ensuring customers understand the value of what you’re offering to them.

Sandeen explains that the most basic value propositions involve value articulation, “the overall perceived value of your product or service.” This encompasses all of the things about your product that potential customers perceive as valuable – what makes your product unique.

You, of course, need a unique selling point (USP). It’s what makes your product a better option than a competitor’s in at least one meaningful way. This becomes the ‘core’ of your value proposition, but not its be-all, end-all. A weak value proposition would only involve value articulation and your USP; a strong value proposition, on the other hand, must be refined and supported using specific claims and promises.

You need proof of these claims, whether that’s through statistics demonstrating the effectiveness of your product or the need it fulfills. An even stronger value proposition involves a guarantee that you can follow through with your promises – so think about the ways you could demonstrate this. Free trials, sample packs, and product demonstrations are all good examples, as is the dissemination of positive customer feedback throughout your marketing materials. Finally, building a third party reference base is an invaluable tool. Many customers will only make a final purchasing decision after a referral or advice from a respected, knowledgeable third party – so getting your product into the hands of this group is vital for penetrating a wider market.

Simply put, your value proposition needs to represent a comprehensive argument, rather than just a statement or a set of slogans, as to why people should choose your brand.

There are some great examples of value propositions here, and we encourage you to take a look over them and think about what makes them work. How do they make the benefits of their products or services immediately clear? What could they do differently to demonstrate that their product is inherently valuable? Finally, think about how they work their value propositions into their wider branding – what are the connections between text value propositions and, for example, the visual design employed by these companies?

SMF Appointed as NED at Green Dragon Gas

Wayne Roberts
SMF Wayne Roberts

Green Dragon Gas Ltd (AIM:GDG), one of the largest independent companies involved in the production of CBM gas and the distribution and sale of wholesale gas in China, is pleased to announce the appointment of Wayne Roberts as a Non-executive Director of the Company with immediate effect. Mr Roberts has over 25 years’ experience in the Oil & Gas industry; he will be an independent member of the board and will be a member of the Audit Committee.

Until earlier this year, Mr. Roberts was Senior Vice President, Commercial, at BG Group plc (“BG”) for Africa, the Middle East and Asia and was accountable for commercial, business development activities within that region and was directly responsible for BG’s businesses in Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar. During his tenure with BG, he was also President of BG Asia Pacific, based in Singapore, where he was responsible for BG’s oil, gas and power businesses in Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and China. His responsibilities for China involved signing concessions with China and negotiating the successful sale of assets to CNOOC and Sinopec, thus developing senior-level relationships with both CNOOC and the Chinese Government. Mr. Roberts also had management responsibility for BG’s newly-established LNG business in Singapore.

Prior to joining BG in 2000, Mr. Roberts worked at Atlantic Richfield (“ARCO”) in the UK and the United States where his experience included being a member of the BP/ ARCO merger integration team. Before 1994, when he joined ARCO, Mr. Roberts managed the refining and petrochemical consulting business for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Honeywell. Mr. Roberts is a Chartered Engineer and holds a first class honours degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Manchester and an MBA from INSEAD.

Commenting, Wayne Roberts said: “I am very pleased to be joining the board of Green Dragon Gas at this important time. The Company has a unique and prospective set of assets in China, together with an experienced and committed team ready to take the business forward. It is an exciting time of investment and growth for the Company and I look forward to bringing my gas industry experience to the board to help Green Dragon Gas serve the high-growth, high-value gas markets in China.”

Commenting, Randeep S. Grewal, Chairman and CEO of Green Dragon Gas said:
“I am delighted to welcome Wayne to the Green Dragon Gas board. I believe that the range of his expertise and the breadth of his experience are quite complementary to our current board and thus will be of great accretive value to the Company. In particular his experience of operating integrated gas-only focused businesses as well as his experience within the PRC combined with his engineering background will be of significant benefit. I look forward to working with Wayne as we expand the scale of the Company’s operations as it continues its development from exploration to production; his addition to the board is timely.”

For further information on the Company and its activities, please refer to the website at www.greendragongas.com.


Wayne Roberts is a Sainsbury Management Fellow.