Authenticity and transparency in business seem to be the customer experience buzzwords of the moment. But what does transparency or authenticity look like in practice, not just theory?
Moreover, what’s the strategy or even the psychology behind using these points of view as filters for your online conversations and brand building activities?
Technology rules our lives. From social media to text messages, emails to just checking the weather, our smartphones, watches, and whatever other connected technology you have are never far from reach.
That level of “always-on” mentality has spurred plenty of conversations around digital health and wellbeing, and it’s given rise to new consumer behaviors, including researching brands prior to purchase. After all, not everything a brand says is accurate. And consumers have savvied up to figuring out which brand is keeping its promises, and which is saying it just for the revenue.
Transparency in business, then, becomes a tool that brands can employ to gain (or regain) consumer trust that they are true to their mission and building a real, unique, and dedicated community. And, research shows that people are willing to pay more for brands that act honestly and transparently.
Label Insight, a firm that helps consumers understand what’s in products, found that 39% of people surveyed said they would switch to a new brand if it were completely transparent, 56% would be loyal for life, and 76% would pay more for such brands.
Branded transparency and authenticity broken down
There are a few industries in which transparency in business and customer experience matters more. For instance, younger consumers –– think of those below 50 –– are much more accustomed to transparency and honesty from brands.
So, retailers, e-commerce, and those in the service industry in particular have already had to build this in to their strategies and communication styles. Industries that are often lagging in this trend that B2B and manufacturing, and sometimes the technology space.
That said, when looking for examples of transparency, it’s best to look at those industries which have been practicing this for a while. They have already gone through a lot of the necessary trial and error (though it will be different for every brand).
- Patagonia: Patagonia prides itself on transparency throughout its supply chain, and reducing negative social and environmental impacts the company might have through the production of its items. This is a difficult stance to take, because many companies get caught off guard by the leaking of information about their environmentally-unfriendly manufacturing habits. Patagonia, instead, takes the responsibility on itself to make sure no harm is being caused in the making of its products. When a customer clicks on an item on the Patagonia website, that customer has access to a series of Footprint Chronicles videos directly related to that product. These videos show each step of the supply chain, including all textile mills and sewing factories used in creating the item.
- Southwest Airlines: Southwest Airlines prides itself on transparency, so much so that they billed their low fees and prices as “transfarency.” This along with the campaign hashtag, #FeesDontFly, the airline uses the campaign to showcase its value proposition of no hidden fees or extra costs. The campaign garnered nearly five million likes on Facebook alone, set Southwest Airlines apart from the competition and earned the trust of customers.
- Everlane: Everlane is a DTC retail company that was built on the idea, as they dub it, of “radical transparency.” At their launch, the brand focused on sustainability, eventually leading to the launch of a denim collection in 2017. Everlane now has its ReNew initiative, with a goal of eliminating all virgin plastic from its supply chain (down to packaging) by 2021. It also recently launched the Tread sneaker line, which the company says is fully carbon neutral. It’s successfully linked its brand with the notion of doing good by the planet.
When transparency brings out the trolls
OK, so – say your business has bought in to transparency, and is doing everything it can to level-up to its mission and serve its customers.
That’s fantastic! You’re still going to have haters. That’s just the way the internet works.
The goal is to build a tribe around your set of values and missions, and live those out every day through the workplace, the way you treat your customers, the way you treat your partners, and even the way you treat – yes – your haters.
Worse, yet, is when your brand makes a transparency mistake – and now your haters are the folks who you used to consider pretty loyal customers. Yikes.
This can happen – and it is also OK. Authenticity and transparency in business mean that you’ve put in the time and effort to think through the details from beginning to end and really shore up your branded behavior and efforts in order to contribute to a tribe of beliefs.
It does not mean that you won’t make mistakes. After all, a brand is just a company, and a company is a group of people. And people? Well, they make mistakes. Now, you’ll need to be transparent and authentic in how you address that mistake:
- What we did wrong
- How we could have done it better
- What we are doing now to make sure we do it better in the future
Answering those questions honestly and publicly are a very good first step to solving issues with folks –– especially those who used to be loyal customers.