What do you look like naked? A call for transparency in marketing

In the late 19th century, the Campbell soup facility in New Jersey and the Heinz plant in Pennsylvania were among the first to conduct regular tours of their factories.

These companies were selling a new food concept, and their factory tours helped answer consumer questions. During this period, food was beginning to be mass-produced rather than grown locally and products were increasingly made by machines. Consumers were wary of these new-fangled developments and wanted to see for themselves that they were safe and trustworthy.

Brands letting their customers see behind the curtain is not a new thing but in a connected world smart brands are using it to grow.

Sharing (everything)

Social media app Buffer share everything including their revenue and staff salaries. Employees know everything about everyone else: how much money they make, who’s got equity – even how much they sleep.

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Companies are using software like Baremetrics to display public dashboards of their revenue. In a highly meta move Baremetrics host an open startups dashboard that displays revenue for some of their customers.

These examples have a theme in that they are all small SAAS startups often competing with large well funded competitors. These competitors have driven costs of acquiring customers higher, forcing these smaller competitors to double down on their content marketing and tell their story in an innovative way.

It’s worked. These companies are growing faster, hiring better and getting funded at a rate their competition can’t match.

Set information free

Social media and connectivity has embedded an entitlement in consumers to set information free. Significant global events such as Wikileaks and The Arab Spring have reinforced in people’s minds that they should have perfect knowledge no matter the cost.

While there is a body of evidence it’s a successful strategic move transparency may not be for everyone. Online marketplaces have driven price and reputational transparency for consumers with trusted brands thriving and charlatans dying. Some brands have tried to be transparent and end up opening a pandora’s box of links between chicken nuggets and yoga mats. Only be transparent if you can expose the gnarly bits of your brand or business. If you’ve got bits that you can’t afford to expose you may well have deeper problems.

Transparency and trust go hand in hand

Trust is a precious commodity. Hard to earn but easy to lose. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers write in Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage: “being untrustable can be highly profitable—in the short term anyway—and many businesses are managed almost entirely for short-term results.”

The Fair Trade movement kicked off consumer consciousness for the origin and sustainability of their buying habits. New media properties like Upworthy have spawned and made telling good stories (and artful headline writing) into a juggernaut of attention.

My own Facebook feed is liberally populated with displays of how enlightened and awake my social group are. Brands and marketers ignore the importance of this at their peril. Even the much maligned ‘Generation Me’ want to associate with companies ‘who put purpose above profit’. New Zealand brands such as Whittaker’s and EcoStore who are transparent about their values, ingredients and methods regularly top poles on trust and sustainability.

Highly transparent marketing is going to be easy for some and terrifying for many. The strategic advantage it can bring will make kings of some and fools of others. Choose wisely.

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