In a time when customers have more information than ever before available at their fingertips, brands that are transparent win. And as we discussed in Six Commandments for Surviving the Customer Revolution, more and more companies are waking up to the fact that today’s customers expect—and reward—honest companies.
Openness has never been more important in marketing and in business. Being transparent begins with knowing your customers—it requires having a relationship with your community of customers and engaging in ongoing dialogue, and many brands are increasingly turning to an online insight community to enable this type of deep engagement and learning.
As the examples below show, transparency can look different depending on the audience and the context. Here are 5 brands that provide examples of what it means to be transparent today:
BMW's carbon-fibre electric i3, hailed by the Guardian as a car 'heading for the future', is clearly a different product. However, [BMW Head of Brand Management and Marketing Services Steve] Althaus said marketers' claims of innovation need to be supported because they open the brand up to close public scrutiny. He said customers will ask if claims are really true, because this is what will drive the ultimate purchase decision. "Brands need to be transparent about what they do; the most attractive audience is the most sceptical." – Peter Houston, The Drum
2. McDonald’s Canada
With the “Our Food. Your Questions.” digital platform, consumers were encouraged to ask their toughest questions. In exchange, McDonald’s promised to step up and provide clear and concise answers.
It was a courageous and savvy move that recognizes the importance of creating a kinship with consumers, says Alex Sévigny, director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program.
“Trust and reputation are becoming a fundamental part of building a brand and maintaining a brand community. The McDonald’s campaign is great in that respect. It’s absolutely brave because it required them to give the public a backstage pass to how things work.”
It was the open, honest kind of approach that can silence the harshest of critics, turn a fence-sitter into a fan or, if it backfires, risk alienating consumers unsatisfied with the answers. For McDonald’s Canada, fielding inquiries from the Canadian public through its “Our Food. Your Questions.” digital platform was a way of staying relevant in a day and age where business practices are constantly called into question for all brands in all categories. – Kristin Laird, Marketing magazine
Footprint Chronicles had its origins in our need to figure out how better to communicate our sustainability efforts to our customers. We didn't just want to make an annual standard CSR report. It just didn't feel like us. So we were trying to figure out what we could do, when we had this idea to go into our supply chain and make videos that a customer could see when they come into our website and find out what the real origins were of their jacket or T-shirt, going all the way back to the farm where the cotton was grown and ending up at the warehouse where the product finally ends up. They can see slideshows, videos and interviews of the people behind the product. But more importantly, these slides, videos and interviews discuss what is good about the product and what sucks. It's the good and the bad. It's total transparency. That's what the Footprint Chronicles is. – Rick Ridgeway, VP for Environmental initiatives at Patagonia, in an interview with Simon Mainwaring on Fast Company
The chain, which operates more than 1,450 restaurants across the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and France, recently revealed that since March, they have labeled all the ingredients in their menu items, including GMOs. This makes Chipotle the first American fast food chain to voluntarily display the presence of GMOs in its products.
According to Chipotle’s spokesman, reaction to the identity of the chain’s ingredients has not affected sales. “If anything, it engenders more trust when you’re more forthcoming about the food you serve,” he said. Chipotle is going beyond labeling GMOs, they also intend to eliminate them from their ingredients as much as possible. – Lisa Marie Chirico, Triple Pundit
[When Buffer suffered a security breach in October 2013,] Buffer eschewed the blame game and simply owned up to the problem directly. The situation didn’t become about finger-pointing at some anonymous hackers that their customers couldn't care less about. Instead, they immediately took to every communication channel they had, apologized for the inconvenience, and explained what was to be done as soon as they got a handle on the situation.
In a shining example of “defaulting to transparency,” Buffer chose to publish a blog post which was updated ten times with the ongoing status of the hack and their efforts to make things right. Being in the dark about a situation like this is perhaps the most frustrating part for customers, and these updates went a long way in eliminating that problem. - Gregory Ciotti, HelpScout
Which brands are embracing transparency in the age of the empowered customer? Share your examples with us below or tweet your examples to @VisionCritical.