“Sincerity — if you can fake that, you’ve got it made,” an entertainer once quipped between puffs on a cigar. Many businesses have the same view of transparency. If they can generate the right buzzwords, and blow enough smoke, the consumer will end up believing in their candor and accountability.
In today’s technological age, that trick looks more like a vaudevillian relic than a plan for success, argues The Hartman Group in Forbes magazine this month. “Even prior to the influence of scares about melamine and pet food or E. coli contamination of various food and beverage products, mainstream consumers were already becoming much more inquisitive about how and where products are sourced and about the integrity of the company’s business practices and values,” writes the consulting firm.
“What today’s consumers want to know extends well beyond a food or beverage product’s characteristics, and the quantity of information does not make a company transparent. Instead, the relevance, timing, reliability, accuracy and usefulness of the information does. Almost seven in ten consumers (68 percent) are familiar with the term ‘transparency’ as it relates to a company’s business practices. In this digital era, transparency is not only the new norm, it’s expected. …
“The desire for transparency is created in a technological culture where feedback moves fast, access to information is easy and open source is expected. Transparency is accountability (‘don’t hide, don’t trick’) and adaptability (‘make everyone feel welcome’). …
“Today’s consumers … want to know ‘what’s inside’ before they buy. And what they want to know extends well beyond product and packaging characteristics. Quality information, then, lies at the heart of what motivates purchase.”
The researchers at The Hartman Group define transparency as a core value that 1) “Speaks to consumer desire for connectedness, authenticity and control in an increasingly complex and competitive consumer landscape” 2) “Reveals product quality [consumer benefits] and company integrity [how it does business]” 3) “Creates a stickiness that transforms a transactional exchange into a brand relationship” and 4) “Enables consumers to make intentional choices based on easy access to relevant and truthful information about products, ingredients, sourcing and business practices.”
The revolutionary aspect of the transparency movement is suggested in another key finding from The Hartman Group’s marketplace surveys: “We have seen that a great many consumers believe their purchase decisions are at least as important as their votes in effecting social change, and in many instances, they feel their purchasing power has a greater impact on society than their voting.”
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