For today’s brands, authenticity is earned through a commitment to transparency.
Today, for better or for worse, the camera is always rolling, and every mic is hot. And, being necessarily image-reliant, brands are especially susceptible to negative publicity. While an ongoing, completely honest audit of business practices and internal culture probably isn’t the first choice for most companies, simply walking the walk or talking the talk just won’t cut it anymore. For the modern brand, greater transparency is the only choice.
And from that potentially uncomfortable necessity springs opportunity. Traditional corporate spin may be dead, but a commitment to transparency is the best public relations decision a company can make.
The Big (Ongoing) Reveal
Transparency doesn’t arise spontaneously, but rather from a committed effort on the part of companies. Brands are often counseled not only to interact with their customers, but to maintain an ongoing dialogue with them. Transparency goes hand-in-hand with accountability, and being accountable is a great way to build trust, both personally and professionally.
Via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and other channels, brands are better equipped than ever to field customer and employee concerns. And, more than simply acknowledging them, big data can now be directly applied to find solutions to these concerns. That kind of direct, rational transparency builds a sense of community, and in turn a better consumer experience.
Transparent Values in Action
The benefits of letting customer and employee experience shape a brand’s direction may be self-evident, but they’re not quite the whole story. To be truly authentic is to make your values, actions and messaging coherent and public.
Unilever, as referenced in Nick’s video above, has made a clear public commitment to “use 100% clean energy in [their] operations.” Of course, any company can make such claims, relying on “unseen setbacks” or public apathy to escape accountability. What sets Unilever apart is the way they’ve chosen to be held accountable with regular updates, firm dates for progress and in-depth, easy-to-find explanations of their actions. And, speaking of action, the company has actively forged links with like-minded, clean-power oriented organisations.
Corporations are not legally “people, my friend.” However, a brand that commits to clear values and works diligently to foster an environment of engagement with its community — employees and customers alike — will achieve the desired perception of authenticity and trust.
Corporate Responsibility Gone Reprehensible
Recently, with the rise of instantaneous social media updates and curtain-lifters like WikiLeaks, corporations are under constant fire, not just for the problems they’ve directly caused, but for indirect yet widely deleterious effects that can be tied to their products or services. Unethical as some of the actual practices may be, a lack of transparency opens the door for hyperbolic speculation as to what else could be lurking along these shadowy corporate pipelines.
Fast food companies have been particularly plagued by the unseen ramifications of what’s left unsaid. With an engaged public getting hip to epidemic obesity and diabetes, among other preventable causes of death and decline, fast food brands have taken proactive steps to clean up their acts. McDonald’s, for example, has introduced tools such as the Nutrition Calculator and now lists calorie counts on menus. Not a perfect solution, but a valiant effort at transparency nonetheless.
When an organisation is propped up on unsavory practices, or even the implication of such, a move towards transparency can win back customer trust and position the brand as a powerful, authentic industry leader.