Escalent recently mapped out what it means to be truly authentic and created the Brand Authenticity Index™, which measures the five scientifically derived dimensions we found that accurately predict and are diagnostic of a brand’s authenticity: Thoughtful, Transparent, Reliable, Committed and Socially Aware. We also found that transparency is one of the most elusive dimensions for all of the companies we rated. While this article is focused on the technology industry, these insights can be applied across the industry spectrum.
Transparency is important because it allows people to see beyond the decision and into the decision-making process. It gives consumers the information they need to determine if a brand is genuine in its communication and actions—and this is true across industries.
The tricky thing with transparency is that it is really hard for brands to achieve. It can feel like exposing your secrets to the world. It also takes and forces discipline—brands need to be thoughtful and respectful in everything they do while keeping their brand values at the forefront. But, when a brand demonstrates transparency well, it works! And, even better, it allows your customers to play a key part in the world you are creating for them.
Buffer, a social media tools company, is a great example of how transparency fosters authenticity. Buffer built its entire business model around its value of “Default to Transparency.” One of the more interesting ways the brand lives this is by posting every employee’s salary and the reasoning for the salary on a shared document. This practice goes against the norm, but allowing employees to see what everyone earns—and why—gives them information and incentive, and showcases the company’s commitment to fair, equal pay among employees. While this seemed like it was taking a big step from a transparency perspective, Buffer didn’t stop there. In its “Open Blog,” the company also publishes how these salaries stack up and how it is analyzing disparities between salary and experience, gender and job type. Buffer posts all findings from year to year on the blog, so employees (and anyone else) can see how it is making progress toward being a truly transparent, diverse and fair company to all of its employees.
Buffer also extends this practice of transparency to its customers by inviting them to use its free “Stories Creator” to make and share personal stories on social media. With the added use of a #buffercommunity hashtag, the brand is building a safe space with and for social followers where all involved are engaging in transparency by sharing meaningful content. This strategy is helping Buffer build stronger bonds with its customers and followers by creating a sense of community.
This all-in approach to transparency can go a long way to instill trust among consumers, clients and employees. As the business grows, Buffer may have more leeway to do what it needs to do to grow as long as its actions continue to stay true to its values. Buffer can leverage the transparency dimension of Brand Authenticity in a meaningful way, allowing it to weather storms that may arise over time.
Looking at big tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, the idea of transparency is more complicated. For these brands, multiple factors impact how consumers see them. These brands are highly visible and consumers interact with them daily. They each have sub-brands (and business lines) associated with the larger parent brand, and each has been pulled in for questioning by the government, resulting in a high level of public scrutiny. All of this can make it problematic for consumers to feel like these big tech brands are being transparent.
Let’s look at Facebook to better understand this. This year, Facebook has confronted mounting public criticism and an advertising boycott for its policies on moderating content, including inflammatory rhetoric, hate speech and misinformation. Facebook has taken this criticism seriously and put into place processes to stop the spread of misinformation. As we have seen over the years, every action the company has taken while navigating this situation has been publicly scrutinized, as is the case with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is his own brand and inextricably linked with the company brand.
The concern still exists about Facebook’s role in the spread of polarizing and unsubstantiated stories, and discussion about this has been gaining steam despite Facebook striving to reassure the public that it is working to reduce misinformation and interference for a myriad of issues such as climate change, elections and COVID-19. Facebook is fighting a reputation of not being transparent in the past, which leads to distrust from consumers today. How the brand is perceived in the future will depend on which values Facebook uses to define itself. The brand needs to communicate and reassure the public it is being transparent, thoughtful and socially aware about how it manages its business for the good of its users and broader society.
Achieving transparency is complex, but keep these three things in mind if you find yourself in a tough situation:
Whether your brand is established or evolving, consumers value a brand that is true to itself. If you’d like to learn more about the importance of transparency and our study, download our white paper “Brand Authenticity: What It Means, Why It Matters and How to Get There.”