Interview with Paolo Iabichino – Founder of Civic Brands Observatory

This month De-LAB had the pleasure of interviewing Paolo Iabichino, corporate communications expert and Founder of the Civic Brands Observatory. Here are our five questions about the evolution of social communication. Happy reading!

Thanks to the presence of the Civic Brands Observatory, it is possible to monitor the ways in which organizations communicate their social impacts: from your point of view – in this last period in which the topic has certainly gained space and attention – how has the narrative of the “human side” of companies changed? 

The good news related to the H2H (Human 2 Human) approach is that indeed the personal component has taken over in business narratives, just think of the Nardella case for Microsoft. It is therefore an increasingly used narrative matrix. The bad news is that we often linger in hyper-narrative, losing the authentic naturalness of truth…everything, therefore, becomes hype, appearing artificial and losing the grip of truth. For example, using employees as megaphones to do people engagement means making them sandwich men (or women). Instead, the opportunity is to figure out how to get audiences to engage with their favorites in the company. Is this also in trend related to the age of entrepreneurs? YES, let’s say more to their culture…that paternalistic view of engagement is more “old-fashioned”. In any case, the current trend affects both B2C and B2B, so there are beautiful stories in both sectors. 

In recounting the ESG performance of companies and organizations (including the third sector), there is mention of networks, associations or alliances needed to generate the “critical mass” necessary for the presence of meaningful impacts: in your opinion, hasn’t the role that individuals-people-have to play in building value from the bottom up been lost?

I think top-down impact is harder to achieve, so individual independent initiatives have nothing to fear, quite the contrary. In some cases, you get there first on your own, as in the case of “The Clothest” project, which through Eppela at the moment are fundraising to structure an e-commerce that resells the most luxurious clothes among those donated to the poor, and with the proceeds supports service centers that assist the needy.

What do you think are the three elements that can help the user of social communication understand whether the company is telling a credible impact story, or is at risk of impact-washing? What do you need to pay attention to in order to apply a critical filter?

In the book I wrote, “Civil Writing,” I talk about: credibility, relevance and pertinence. These are the three things that everyone needs to find within a corporate narrative that touches on ESG issues. Credibility: is the brand credible in its purpose, or is it fictitious goodness? Relevance: is the company acting out of cultural tension or based on consumer insight? Pertinence: do the promoted activities make sense close to that brand, or are they totally disconnected?

Let’s reflect, for example, starting with the Amazon commercial in which they talk about the happiness of their warehouse workers.

Traditionally, the Third Sector has extensive experience in telling about its ESG impacts, part of its mandate and identity as a Civil Society actor. At the same time, a movement has emerged of for-profit entities that have formally linked themselves to the generation of Common Benefit purposes (Benefit Societies) and certified ESG impacts (B-CORP): in your view, is their way of communicating impacts overlapping/uniforming, or do differences remain in the way these two entities–profit and nonprofit–tell their responsible business models?

They are totally overlapping, but the nonprofit is taking the worst of the for-profit, appropriating toxic issues such as customer/donor retention, use of influencers, etc. This is how fiduciary ties are missing and we move from stories to testimonials. Instead, collaboration should lead to a capacity for nonprofits to transform for-profits, at least those for-profits that have not already evolved on these issues, such as B-CORPs or benefits, for example.

Could you recommend a reading and/or movie that you think helps us understand the way value communication is changing?

At this time when we need to be particularly attentive to what corporate communication is telling us, I would recommend a recently published book, “Capitalism Woke: How Corporate Morality is Sinking Democracy” by Fazi Editore. We have gone from a time of extreme reliance on telling the human side of corporations to one in which critical capacity is needed.

NB: The interviews reported here are not part of paid commercial services. They are for the sole purpose of sharing ideas, projects and reflections among De-LAB newsletter subscribers.a gli iscritti alla newsletter De-LAB.

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