Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none

Today, both consumers and technology are all about WYSIWYG . We want to be assured that your supply chain isn't rife with dodgy characters and that no pandas were disturbed in the manufacturing process. Transparency has simply become a survival skill.

The new consumer would rather get to know the one behind the curtain than Oz, the Great and Powerful, and many brands have responded by dropping their drapes wherever possible. Brands that are "see through" are associated with honesty, self-confidence and social responsibility. In return, this buys our love, our engagement, and ultimately, your growth.

I See What You Did There

Don't take my word for it. Here's an inside look at the evidence:

  • In discussing how to connect with customers on a personal level and make a brand more "artisanal," Randy Komisar of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers equated transparency with success: "Transparency is integral to the companies' building lasting relationships with customers today and allows for a focus on creating great products. Successful companies can't hide mistakes or internal goings-on like they once could. Extreme honesty is the new policy of successful business in the 21st century."
  • Lauren Hepler at GreenBiz pointed out that trends in big data and corporate social responsibility are converging: "Ready or not, more transparency is coming." She said that companies need to pay attention to more than just Yelp reviews, Glassdoor reports and social media mentions. Governmental data initiatives are on the way to openly compare companies based on customer complaints.
  • More honesty attracts better talent too. A research study of 40,000 employees at 300 companies all over the planet found that employer transparency was almost perfectly correlated to employee happiness. "The cost of improving transparency is almost zero, but requires an ongoing dialog between management and staff. We see an increasing number of companies using transparency as a weapon to attract and retain top talent."

Clear Winners

Speaking of dropping their drapes, the documentary "The Naked Brand" seriously suggested that honesty in advertising can save the world. The film profiled leading global brands with very little to hide, demonstrating how this translated into huge wins in customer engagement, revenue growth and brand loyalty.

  • Unilever - Their Project Sunlight initiative gives young people around the globe a platform by posting user generated videos on what sustainable living should look like in their own countries.
  • Under Armour - In 2010, the company received low marks on management transparency. They've completed turned that around and become an industry leader in ethics and accountability, even adding transparency to the company's mission statement.
  • Zappos - Handling customer service on Twitter has put everything out in the open. This strategy has paid off handsomely in customer trust and loyalty. In return, the company trusts its customers enough to let them create video campaigns for the company.
  • Patagonia - On their Footprint Chronicles website, the company provides transparency into their supply chain in an effort to reduce the company's social and environmental impacts.

5 Ways to increase transparency

Unfortunately customers don’t have time, or willingness to invest their trust in every brand - too much goodwill was burned over the last “decade of scale”.

However, that trust can be earned, and "Going limpid" doesn't have to be scary. Here are are five simple actions to communicate that your brand is dealing from the top of the deck.

  1. Publish a mix of good and bad feedback.

    Customers are sophisticated. They don't rely on a single source of information, especially information from the company that they are researching. A forum site can have many benefits like better SEO and more referrals, but it must allow a range of viewpoints to convince the customer that this is a free comment space.

  2. Encourage more user generated content (UGC).

    Social media was made for UGC. Seek out brand mentions or terms related to the brand identity and promote those images, videos and comments. Contests for the best UGC remain extremely popular on a variety of social networks.

  3. Post "simple smartphone" videos from your team and your customers.

    Contemporary culture is more visual than ever before. Now that every phone can be movie camera, create an online space where employees and motivated customers can tell their stories visually. More than anything, raw video is very hard to fake, and therefore unlike written or studio produced content, is highly trusted.

  4. Keep content “fresh”.

    Update your user and team content, we want to know who we are talking to today, and that they are “living” the brand values that we love. Show me new customers, new team members, and new updates.

  5. Keep it light:

    Your team has personality, and personalities - the individuals who keep smiles on everyones faces - they could probably do this for your customers too. People buy from people, not business’s.

The Crystal Ball

The new consumer wants to brag that they support socially responsible brands. Be there for them. Meanwhile, governments are getting pressure to be more responsive about consumer protection. To put it simply, it's plain to see that being plain to see is the future of brands, and that the brands that make things plain for consumers are the ones with the brightest future.