Most brands operate under a simple assumption: relentlessly focus on a core set of brand attributes that differentiate you from key competitors. Increasingly, however, there’s one attribute that every brand needs to own–and it’s not something that usually has anything to do with the product or service performance.
It’s called “open and transparent.” And it’s a brand attribute that every brand needs to own in the future.
- One to Many Sharing — The web has enabled one to many sharing — think of the Comcast repairman YouTube video which has logged over 1.3MM views. Consumers can share information and knowledge about companies and brands far beyond their immediate social graph.
- Social Network Portability — Recommendations from people you know are increasingly portable. Facebook Connect and other similar capabilities are beginning to provide consumers with the perspectives of people they know as they traverse the web. Implications are large, as I covered in a previous blog post: How the Future Social Web will Transform Marketing.
- Knowledge & Information — Expectations of available knowledge before making a purchase decision have increased dramatically. Think about consumers doing TripAdvisor reviews before finalizing travel, Amazon.com reviews before buying a book, etc. Want to know what those Michelin tires you’ve been thinking about buying feel like on your car ? On TireRack.com, you can even read reviews of tires by people with your exact same car before you buy.
- Consumer Loss of Confidence in Institutions — Consumers increasingly distrust large institutions. Based on the General Social Survey, which has been tracking American attitudes and opinions on political and social issues since 1972, people are losing faith in large institutions, with the one exception being the military. This was true before the financial crisis, and it has been magnified many times over since–note the huge erosion of confidence in banks and financial institutions.
Company and Brand Implications
Corporations used to to be able to use a “stay out of the headlines” strategy when something went wrong.
- Broke someones guitar on a United flight ? Ignore the problem.
- Need to pay big bonuses at Merrill Lynch ? Avoid the press.
- Someone figured out a way to quickly and easily pick the Kryptonite bike lock ? Hope no one finds out.
None of this works anymore. Consumers are able to see and learn more than ever. They know more about your company, the officers, shareholders, products, and services than ever before. They sometimes even know things about your company before you do.
The Importance of “Open and Transparent”
Open and transparent communication is important because of three things:
- Trust — Consumers want to trust brands. To earn that trust, brands need to consistently deliver against their brand promise. But now, given the changes above, they need to go beyond this. They need to communicate openly and transparently. Because consumers don’t trust something they don’t understand. And understanding requires open and transparent communication.
- Confidence — Confidence is created when actions or claims match words consistently over time. If a company promises something, and their behavior mirrors that promise on a consistent basis, then we have confidence in them. The new reality is that consumers can easily check to see if your company or brand is behaving consistently with your promise.
- Financial Performance — Trust and confidence are not just brand descriptors. They’re usually, in my experience, directly linked to company financial performance. Consumers that trust and have confidence in a brand or company are more likely to recommend the products and services of the firm, provide referrals, and increase their share of wallet. Trust and confidence aren’t just nice moral attributes, they’re key drivers of financial performance.
Years ago, as a Brand Manager, I never gave a seconds thought to the need for my brand to be “open and transparent.” But much has changed since then. Given the changes above — one to many sharing, social network portability, consumers increased access to information, and the growing distrust with large institutions — open and transparent communication and behavior becomes a touchstone for every brand in the future.
Do you want consumers to have trust and confidence in your brand–while achieving better financial results ? If so, then you should be asking yourself the question: “Is my brand open and transparent ?”