How transparency should play a role in marketing

Most brands are cloudy in their marketing but shouldn't be afraid of transparency: being as open as they should with the marketplace can have benefits.

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As new modes of communication have opened up and it’s become easier than ever to convey timely and relevant information to the masses, the very messages being transmitted have become less and less transparent. It’s as if the simplicity of communicating has made it more difficult to be honest and forthcoming.

One area where we see a lack of transparency is marketing. As much as we’d all like to say that our brands are 100 percent transparent in their marketing efforts, this simply isn’t true. In fact, most brands are considerably cloudy in their messaging. This doesn’t mean they’re overtly lying or being dishonest, but it does mean they aren’t being as open as they should with the marketplace.

Quite frankly, something needs to change.

What is transparency?

The definition of transparent is rather simple. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions goes like this: “Characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.”

Out of all the possible focuses the definition of transparency could take on, business is clearly one of the most important. When people think about transparency, they expect businesses to embody it.

But what is transparency? Ultimately, transparency is about communicating in a way that’s open, honest, and forthcoming. The latter word is key. You shouldn’t have to be prompted or forced to be transparent. Transparency is something that happens naturally.

The business benefits of transparency

In terms of marketing, transparency is the only way to build trust. Entrepreneur Mat Franken explains it best when he says, “When buyers make purchases, they want to know their decisions are good for their family and align with personal or charitable interests. Trust can’t be bought. It must be earned. Consumers want to understand exactly what they are buying, and rightly deserve the knowledge they seek.”

Over the past few months, there’s been a surprising uptick in the number of brands investing in transparent marketing. Most are startups and small businesses, but even a handful of corporations are joining the fold.

“Turns out, transparency is a strong trend that doesn’t appear to be reversing. Consumers are pushing for it, and strong brands are aligning their values and marketing with this in mind,” marketer Alex Birkett says. “The postmodern consumer doesn’t seem to be as trusting, or as interested in, corporate BS, hype, or inauthenticity,” he continues.

The good news is that transparency is often rewarded with substantial benefits:

  1. Larger audience

If you want a picture of what transparency looks like in the business world, search no farther than Tim Sykes, the outspoken penny stock trader who’s made millions trading stocks and teaching students to do the same. A couple of years ago, Sykes decided to use Covestor, a verification platform that verifies all of your trades, so that others know whether or not you’re telling the truth when you say “buy this” or “sell that.”

After using Covestor and growing one account from $12,000 to $200,000, people no longer questioned his honesty. They could see that he was telling the truth.

“It’s just about transparency,” Sykes says. “That’s why my business succeeds. Covestor was the first stop but I’m all over Facebook, Twitter everywhere showing free picks, showing premium picks, and most of the time, I hit.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur or a Fortune 100 company, transparency almost always leads to more trust, which subsequently produces a larger audience and customer base.

  1. Enhance valuation

Detractors will often point to transparency and say that the “benefits” are all illusions. Well, here’s one thing you can’t argue with: Time and time again, brands have shown there’s a direct correlation between increased transparency and financial valuation.

Take Dominos Pizza, for example. In 2008, the company surveyed customers to find out what was wrong with their service. They shared all of the feedback publicly — even though some of it was scathing — and asked customers to help them. At the time, the stock price was hovering right around $7.73. Today, the stock is trading over $130 per share. You obviously can’t attribute all of their success to this action, but it was clearly one of the catalysts.  

  1. More internal loyalty

People like telling the truth. It makes them feel better about themselves and the businesses they work for. When businesses make transparency a priority in marketing, it has a tremendously positive impact on corporate culture. This results in more loyalty and stability throughout the organization.

Three tips for more transparent marketing

So, what does it look like to be more transparent in your marketing? Let’s highlight a few specific things you can do to improve the honesty and quality of your marketing moving forward.

  1. Be open about the “why”

People are more interested than you may think about the “why” behind your business. The “why” is the reason you started the business in the first place. It’s your most important core value. It’s your mission statement. While most companies discuss the “why” at some point, it’s almost always hidden away on some obscure page or document. Instead, give it the exposure it deserves by placing it on the homepage or in your email signature. Be open about the “why.”

  1. Talk about your losses

As marketers, we’re really good at discussing all of our accomplishments and the times when our businesses was successful. However, we rarely discuss losses outside of boardrooms. Here’s a crazy thought: Openly blog about your losses! Did sales numbers wane last quarter? Spill the beans. Did you make a mistake in the last marketing campaign? Tell people what you learned from the mistake. This honesty is actually a positive form of marketing.

  1. Discuss sourcing

If corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a big deal to your company, then it’s imperative that you discuss sourcing. Where are your products coming from and who’s touching them across the entirety of the supply chain? This is something Patagonia is known for, and you could jump on the bandwagon.

Embrace radical transparency

Embracing transparency is unfortunately a radical thing in today’s marketing landscape. However, you shouldn’t let this stop you from stepping forward and doing the right thing. Not only will your customers come to trust you more, but your business will also gradually become a more honest and fulfilling place to work.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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