The Human Age

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Why Transparency Matters Today

By Charles Lunan

The truth is out there. Maybe that’s why global brands have invested billions of dollars in digital platforms over the last decade in a bid to keep up with the rising demands for transparency. And the demands – as well as the budgets – continue to increase.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube know all about this. All of them are having the validity of their brands tested as investigations into the credibility of what they have allowed to post (in many cases, without verifying) is being called into question. 

Today, consumers demand transparency. They demand that brands be up front about what they are selling, how they are selling it and how their visions play into the big picture. 

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There’s no going back, and there’s no hiding the information. So let everyone have it.

Andrew Kantor

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And this transparency is becoming particularly urgent now that members of Gen Z are reaching their 20s – the time when consumers typically forge relationships with brands that help them achieve or express their aspirations. If a connection is made, those relationships can endure a lifetime. 

Much has been written about how the 2008 financial crisis made Gen Z more skeptical than preceding generations and sent them on a quest for authenticity. They favor transparency, honesty and practicality over popularity and slick marketing, according to dozens of surveys, hundreds of consultants and thousands of articles.  

But focusing too much on Gen Z risks overlooking the larger point. Smartphones and social media have dramatically enhanced the capacity of all consumers – not to mention congressional investigators, regulators and activist groups – to hold brands accountable when they don’t live up to their promises. 

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“If brands are dishonest about their products and what they can offer, it’s not hard for consumers to quickly find and access honest feedback from other consumers to inform their decisions,” says Sarah Spivey, CMO for Bazaarvoice, which provides customer review software for about 5,000 brands, including Best Buy, GEICO, Microsoft, QVC, Sephora and Samsung.

Transparency becomes more important the higher a brand fits into psychologist Abraham Maslow’s five-tier hierarchy of needs. People struggling to fulfill their basic physiological needs on the first tier of Maslow’s pyramid won’t put as much emphasis on how their food is grown as someone striving for self-actualization on the fifth tier. That person may want to know what the chicken in the store freezer was fed, how it was sheltered and whether it was given growth hormones and antibiotics.

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If brands are dishonest about their products and what they can offer, it’s not hard for consumers to quickly find and access honest feedback from other consumers to inform their decisions.

Sarah Spivey, CMO, Bazaarvoice

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“The higher the level of needs that you can fulfill for your customers, the likelier the chance of earning and keeping that customer for life,” says Jaime Zepeda, a professor with the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkley. “Your customer’s need for esteem is fulfilled when they can feel proud of being associated with you. With that pride, the partnership will broaden.”

Zepeda says your customers will give you access to other tangential needs and problems that they want you to solve. “You will go beyond your original box, and partner with your customers in innovative and co-created ways.”

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