It’s old enough by now that it’s probably okay to start with this spoiler: in the classic movie The Wizard Of Oz, what appeared to be a great and all-powerful being is eventually revealed to be nothing more than a little old man behind a curtain.
This was shocking because, until then, all anyone could focus on was the wizard’s reputation and the illusion he projected of an enormous, god-like head. The other characters realized they could no longer take the wizard as seriously. In fact, they didn’t have to listen to him at all.
Today, there are many customers who look at brands wondering what, exactly, is going on behind the curtain.
Marketers might not always be aware of the shift that has taken place. For years, theirs was a pretty one-way relationship with their customers. The brand would make the TV commercial or ad, and people would watch it. The brand would put up a billboard, and people driving by would look at it. The brand would mail out a flyer or brochure, and people would read it.
Digital technologies have not only opened up a slew of additional channels for brands, but channels where the audience can act as participants. Today, for instance:
Customers can watch a commercial online and comment directly on what’s been said.
Customers can get a brand’s e-mail messages and instantly send back their reply.
Customers can see what a brand is saying on social media and offer a response that might get seen by their own (sometimes larger) following.
All of this is good news for marketers — if they know how to change the way they approach their work.
The back-and-forth that’s now possible through digital channels means they need to take into account new customer expectations around transparency.
Some customers not only want good products and services at affordable prices. They want products and services they know were developed and are marketed in responsible ways. They want to do business with companies who treat their employees equitably, and who hire with diversity and inclusion top of mind.
In everyday interactions, they want to understand the answer to a question like ‘Why’ without treating a brand as though they were a detective interrogating a reluctant witness.
Marketing with transparency might mean different things for different brands. Instead of trying to offer all the answers, consider these questions to determine whether your marking is transparent enough:
You mandate that customers can only return a product within a week of the sale. Why? The policy goes on to stipulate that they cannot get a refund but only store credit. Why? You do not offer free shipping. Why not?
Don’t hope that if you say nothing about the rationale behind your policies that customers will simply stay quiet, too.
Even if they don’t reach out directly to ask for more information, they might simply look for a brand where the policies are more transparent and therefore easier to accept.
Environmental concerns have arguably never been higher as we learn more about the potentially devastating impact of climate change and the depletion of natural resources.
Brands didn’t always feel they had to discuss or even disclose the ingredients or materials that go into their products, or the way in which they’re manufactured.
Today, customers appreciate transparency about the degree to which a brand is focused on areas such as environmental stewardship and its sustainability practices.
Would customers feel like they could work proudly at your company?
Hiring decisions might seem like something that only concerns those internal to the organization, but think again.
Customers are actively looking at everything from the gender and ethnic representation of a brand’s leadership team to its reported pay and working conditions as they determine whom they should buy from.
Marketers might be reluctant to delve into these areas if the company doesn’t look perfect, but that’s not what being transparent means.
Being transparent means openly showing the efforts you’re making to improve. You’re inviting customers to be part of your journey. That’s only possible when they know where you’re trying to go.
There isn’t an organization in the world that doesn’t make a mistake. It’s how you address it that matters.
A brand might get its data stolen by hackers. One of its products might need to be recalled. The CEO might be fired due to a bad decision or disreputable behaviour.
There’s a natural inclination to deal with these things privately. To do otherwise feels, like the old adage says, that you’re airing your dirty laundry in public. Customers actually expect to see that laundry. They also want to know how you’re going to clean it.
The role of a marketing team can be crucial here, whether it’s composing an email for customers, publishing a blog post with FAQs or producing a video with an explanatory message from the brand.
Once brands embrace transparency, they often experience benefits they never expected. Customers develop a deeper trust and affinity. They have more reasons to be a fan besides just liking your products and services.
Transparency can also boost a brand’s reputation via word of mouth, which may be the best marketing. Customers like to feel they’re buying from transparent, ethical brands and will tell their family and friends as much. What you need to remember is that transparency is something that needs to be as actively marketed as your products and services.
In some cases your policies or approach to growing a brand might deserve a campaign of its own. In others, it will simply inform the way you tell stories about your brand’s products and services.
In the end, being transparent about your firm’s practices and values will be considered part of your brand identity. And from there, customers may be much more receptive to all of the other marketing you do.