A recent Forbes article listing the 11 most important marketing trends for 2015 stated that “transparency will become the most important tool of marketing” this year and went on to say that few of the big brands understand the advantages and seem to fight being transparent. This isn’t a huge surprise, it’s taken some time for large brands to become familiar with and use best practices on social media which of course is hugely concerned with building relationships.
I’ve thought for a while now (and I’m far from alone in this) that social media has fundamentally changed the way that we do business. For me, this is due to the essential power shift that we’ve seen take place between the consumer and brand. Whilst once a brand could afford to offer poor customer service if they were big enough, these days they are likely to be harassed and ridiculed on social media if they don’t.
Modern consumers are interested in what brands are doing for them and social media has humanized business in that consumers are much more likely to get the sense that they are communicating with a real person, even in the event of a complaint. Whilst some companies do still keep customers on the phone for hours, kept in a queue and passed around from department to department, this is much less common. Of course, there are certain sectors, such as banking and government, where this still takes place, but for the most part, businesses seem to understand that they’re required to offer customers more options for communication.
What is Transparency All About?
At its core, transparency is what the name suggests, it’s about building trust and loyalty in your brand through honesty and integrity. Its common now for budding businesses and even established brands to create an identity through storytelling and this should be consistent with everything that the brand believes in. More importantly, it should be believable to the consumer or it will ultimately be counterproductive.
…it’s about building trust and loyalty in your brand through honesty and integrity.
This means that when it comes to how a product is sourced and made, or a service delivered, it’s essential to ensure that the stories that are told about it are based in truth. In a 2014 study carried out by Edelman, it was found that 68% of consumers considered it important for a brand to communicate transparently on how their products are made. The same survey found that consumers also consider it important that brands provide a platform for them to ask questions and share what they think about the brand, with 59% of respondents preferring those brands that did. So it’s clear that consumers are concerned very much with placing trust in a brand and that they want to be more involved.
This means in turn, that consumers want to know the brands that they purchase from or are associated with, warts and all. With this in mind, brands should be considering not only how they can present themselves in the best light, but how they can admit mistakes made. This of course flies in the face of everything that brands want. In the past (and still) brands have been more concerned with sweeping mistakes under the carpet than admitting them and – horror – coming clean to customers. This is natural of course, humans don’t like to admit mistakes and they certainly don’t want to tell the world and eat humble pie if they can possibly avoid it. However, doing just that could help to further strengthen the brand and add to consumer trust as the consumer recognises that a wrong is being righted.
Wage Transparency and Buffer
For example, at the end of December 2013, Buffer announced in a blog post that it had a new policy of being transparent about its wage structure and as such, listed it in the post. The company then found itself snowed under with resumes that had been sent in following the post. Buffer initially decided to post the wage structure as it wanted to foster a better sense of trust with its employees, as it decided that this was likely to further improve collaboration and teamwork.
Did it work? On the surface of things it would seem so, since so many people decided that they would like to work for the company off the back of that one blog post. This is because Buffer showed that it cares about its employees – and in turn, people – and wanted to make things better for them. This was recognised and led to the company being seen as one that a lot of people wanted to work for (or, the wages are exceptionally good…).
Consumers these days are inundated with choice and this has given them a sense of empowerment. This in turn has led consumers to be pickier about the brands that they do business with. They want to know that the brands they purchase from hold the same values as they do and transparency enables this. Once they have established that a brand is good enough, then trust begins to build and once this is strong, then loyalty begins to grow. And loyalty is what many brands are looking for in their customers. Sure, a consumer may be able to purchase a product from a competitor cheaper, but that brand may not practice fair trade, so they will reject them and stick with the one that does.
For marketers, this is gold. Not only do you then have a loyal stable of customers, you can also leverage it to enable better WOM marketing through loyal brand ambassadors. You can remarket more effectively and make better use of personalization tactics to further prompt more revenue and in turn, more happy buyers.
It’s important though that any attempt at transparency is absolutely genuine. A consumer that’s loyal to a brand because of the way that it treats its employees, for example, is still going to be put out if it then goes on to provide appalling customer service. So it’s something that should be crafted carefully and planned well. Lies and deceit are easy to see through when a brand isn’t putting its money where its mouth is.
Transparency can really help to strengthen a brand and foster healthy customer relationships that flourish. However, in order to get it right, it’s important that a brand concentrates its efforts on how it communicates with its customers too. Get it right and the returns are many, get it wrong and it’s likely that the brand will suffer or if it’s really bad, fail.