Economy & Politics

Column Too much chatter about Purpose

Capital columnist Bernd Ziesemer columnist Bernd ZiesemerMartin Kress

For German companies, the Corona year 2020 began with a shit storm on social media – and it ends that way. In the spring, Adidas came into the line of fire with the decision to suspend the rent payments for the Group’s stores. And now with the second retail closure before Christmas, Douglas felt the same way with the idea of ​​keeping its perfumeries open as “drugstores”. One can learn a lot from both cases.

Adidas and Douglas are among the companies that beat the drum the loudest on the Internet. Both Kasper Rorsted and Tina Müller were very willing to be stylized as “superstars” in the media. The boss and boss have long enjoyed talking about the “purpose” of their companies. Translated, this actually only means simply “purpose”, but in Germany you make a kind of metaphysics out of it: The group as a collective do-gooder whose ultimate reasons lie beyond disreputable sales and profits. The old motto “The Business of Business is Business” should no longer apply.

But with the loud constant chatter about “Purpose”, too many things tumble into each other that should be separated. First, companies have to abide by law and order – and Douglas AG’s short-sighted trickery was nothing more than an attempt not to do just that. Second, companies should strive for a sustainable business strategy out of self-interest – that is, pay attention to their carbon footprint, treat their own employees sensibly, and keep their supply chains clean. Everything else costs a lot of money in the end. Thirdly, it has long been part of the basics of very stupid business administration to pay attention to reputation capital – i.e. to refrain from anything that could damage one’s own reputation among customers and the wider public.

What is new, however, is the seduction of social media into wanting to comment on everyone. Women’s rights and gender issues, Fridays for Future and New Year’s Eve, Christmas recipes and animal welfare – companies spread their opinions about things that would never have appeared in a good old press release before. One is curious and believes that it makes you more personable. But if you talk about everything, you have to expect that you will measure him against everything. It is good that the corporations have discovered the communication possibilities of the global Internet for themselves. But meanwhile it would also be good if a little more communicative discipline returned. Otherwise the corporations lose more than they gain.

Thousands of advertisers, consultants and internet experts earn their money by seducing the companies into constant babbling. This then results in sayings like this one at Douglas, which is emblazoned across the homepage: “We make life itself more beautiful. For a world where everyone feels seen, heard and valued. ” A German scented water seller as a do-gooder – you can believe that or not. But one thing is certain: if you fly so high, you can easily crash-land with the smallest pilot error.

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