Interview with Bernard Richard-Canavaggio, Marketing & Communication Director of DEKRA
Is the B2B sector also affected by the concept of responsible marketing? For Bernard Richard-Canavaggio, there is no doubt that the entire profession is caught up in this fundamental movement, which he considers to be resolutely value-creating… provided that a few rules are observed.
Can you describe your career in a few words?
I love stories – listening to them, telling them – storytellers have always fascinated me. I wanted to go into film because it’s the best medium, the most emotional at least. And after many experiences in sales, communication through large groups (BASF, Bureau Veritas, DEKRA) and smaller structures (SMEs, communication agencies), marketing allowed me to satisfy a large part of this desire to tell stories. Stories, moreover, that are bound to appeal to clients because the profiling stage will have been done beforehand (in this case, it’s my investigative side that has been satisfied).
From your point of view, what have been the main developments in marketing in recent years?
Digital, of course, and its corollary: data. This virtuous circle whereby the data collected allows for more effective digital action. When the digital wave started to invade marketing, I initially thought it was going too fast, that we were doing a bit of a mess. The marketers in my network were talking about it all the time, as if they had forgotten that marketing is not just about manipulating data. However, like everyone else, I became aware of what new technologies could bring, so when I joined DEKRA, I very quickly integrated the digital transformation of customer relations into my action plan.
The second factor driving the transformation of the profession is CSR. More and more customers are asking DEKRA what the company is doing in terms of CSR. And they want proof, such as our membership of the Act for Nature programme. This is a branding tool and even a licence to operate that makes the marketer a responsible marketer.
Does this mean that marketing has been irresponsible until now?
Yes, partly. A few years ago, I would have answered “largely”, but I think (and your approach is interesting in this respect to confirm this) that there has been an awareness on the part of marketers. I am convinced that marketing is becoming more responsible. And so is business, for that matter. However, there is still a long way to go… Because behind the good intentions, most companies still aim to maximise their profits. This leads them to run faster and faster, to go further and further… without realising, more often than not, that this race to the bottom is exhausting. It was this observation that led me to leave the sales function. People always want more. The history of capitalism is made up of periods of strong growth, followed by violent crises, like in 2008. Should we continue at this pace or should we think about reasoned growth?
Can marketing play a role in making companies aware of this issue?
In general, it has less influence than the financial department. After that, it all depends on how the company’s governance has been designed. DEKRA, for example, is an association of engineers – German-style, like a foundation. As a result, we do not have the same performance targets as our competitors, such as Bureau Veritas. This gives us more freedom. Of course, we need to make a profit to reinvest and grow, because growth is a necessity for any organisation. But we can afford to set reasonable and sensible targets.
Public pressure also plays an important role. Because public opinion considers certain activities to be harmful, their leaders are forced to question their practices. It is more difficult today to recruit in the tobacco industry, in shale gas extraction or in sawmills that cut down tropical forests. Recruiting, but also finding funds, partners etc. So the Marketing Director can set an example by inspiring a responsible attitude. For example, I have always avoided getting into a price war with our competitors. We know that low cost exists, that it has its advantages… But also that it leads to the destruction of value. For me, the role of the marketer is, on the contrary, to show how the company creates value. My old marketing professor said to me: “The Comex only looks at one thing: the return on investment. All your marketing actions must be underpinned by evidence that they deliver value.” Very good, so you have to prove that responsible marketing creates value! For example, at the moment I’m concerned about our vehicle fleet, which is huge. I want to gradually move it towards green energy, which would be a great communication tool.
Yes, but I suppose that the investment to achieve this is not trivial. How do you justify this expense?
At DEKRA, the idea of a CSR company, or even one with a mission, is gaining ground. Anything that contributes to this is good to present. Not to please ourselves, but to fit in with both our DNA and the market’s expectations.
But in that case, why didn’t we do it earlier?
The realisation that our world is running out, that our resources are finite, is relatively recent. Even today, the ecological vote is difficult to pass because it makes people feel guilty and divides them, even though the majority of people are calling for a transition. Not to mention the new generation which is much more committed. In my team, there are many young people who criticise the proposals that they consider to be disrespectful. On all subjects, not only the environment, but also integration, equal opportunities, etc. The culture change is underway.
Paradoxically, the movement towards corporate responsibility is also being held back by digital technology. Let’s take the case of marketing. In my department, on the one hand I have communication pulling at my arm, asking me to do CSR. On the other hand, the operational staff, those who manage digital campaigns and who are asked for concrete, quantified results, push for actions that are not always scrupulously CSR. It is not always easy to distinguish between the two. Schizophrenics beware!
What is the key factor for the success of this transformation?
The most important thing is that the boss has the vision. If this is not the case, it is mission impossible. On the other hand, you have to know how to progress step by step, by finding spaces where the creation of responsible value can be fully expressed. For example, in the choice of targets. When you are a large company like DEKRA, you tend to target large companies. SMEs and VSEs are just as demanding and time-consuming, for a lesser result – for example, sending a sales representative to the other end of France for a small sale means a lot of fuel is consumed for little value produced. But if we find a way to reach these targets while respecting the CSR specifications, everyone wins. It is possible today, provided that we are imaginative and innovative. At DEKRA, we invest a lot in new services. This is the future, even if we are in a captive, highly regulated market.
Finally, there are two basic rules to respect. Firstly, the marketer must ensure that he is helping to sell a responsible product/service. I remember a friend who justified going to work for a cigarette manufacturer to “get to know the enemy better. Today, CSR helps us a lot, but we need to make sure it is implemented in a spirit of truthfulness. Secondly, be careful with the use of data. We can very quickly fall into overuse. From this point of view, I think that the European RGPD is a superb initiative, which goes in the right direction.
But isn’t this a fad?
No, it is a strong trend. I’ve seen it growing for years. It is true that corporate responsibility has not yet reached SMEs, because of the cost and probably because of a lack of communication. But it is a fundamental trend that will not be reversed. Marketing must take hold of it, in a transparent, honest and sincere way, at the risk of falling into the worst of the worst, greenwashing.