Sustainable Transparency: How to develop a transparent and trustworthy brand—and keep it that way

How often do you buy from someone you don't trust? Probably not often. People rarely, if ever, buy from a company they actively do not trust. And with the amount of competition in the market and the vastness of information available to consumers today, in order to have an ongoing relationship with audiences, brands need to create and maintain trust. 

So how to brands cultivate trust? One primary way is through transparency. When companies are not transparent with the way they operate and how they make decisions, it can limit or damage customer trust quickly. With so many options to choose from for products and services, brands need to be transparent with customers so that they know exactly what they are getting.

Keeping this in mind, let’s look at four areas where brand transparency impacts consumer trust and explore how companies can maintain sustainable transparency in order to keep that trust. 

Image Credit: Ryan Tir

Image Credit: Ryan Tir

Company Executives

There are many parts of a company that impact its relationship with its consumers. For instance, who the executives are and what they do—not only in their professional lives but also in their personal lives—really matters.

Take for example the recent debacle with Donald Sterling, former owner of the Clippers, who made a racist comment in private. Once that comment was leaked, the public demanded his termination and removal from the league. The NBA had to act fast to condemn Sterling’s remarks and make it clear the organization did not agree with his offensive statement. If the NBA wasn't transparent and quick in how they addressed the problem, they could have had an even greater backlash from fans. This is just one example of how company owners can impact consumer trust. 

Treatment of Employees

Walmart is regularly under fire for poor treatment of staff. Whether it's frustration over wages, overtime, medical benefits, or safety, consumers and employees often voice complaints via social media and other online outlets, and this impacts Walmart's public image. While Walmart has an arsenal of public relations resources at its disposal, it hasn't always handled the attention effectively. 

Over time, consumers can be left with lingering feelings of distrust and this can impact the company's bottom line. When consumers are not sure of the facts and feel like information is being kept from them, they allow myths and suspicion to create frustration and distrust, and this pulls sentiment about the brand into the negative space.

Online Reviews

Online reviews can have a huge impact on consumer trust and loyalty. According to a Dimensional Research study, 90 percent of consumers say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. In another study, 72 percent of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. 

Many businesses I've talked to have expressed concern regarding how Yelp reviews and those posted on other review sites have impacted their sales. While businesses may wish to remove negative reviews (hard to do on Yelp), it is best to be honest, apologetic, and ready to make amends to customers who complain online. By doing so, these customers, and others reading the reviews, will see the company’s transparency and will be more likely to trust it.

Accessibility

Whether a company is accessible to its consumer base impacts consumer trust as well. Simply sending out messages without engaging with audiences will only get you so far. Companies that are active on social media and respond to consumers’ praises as well as complaints are better able to develop long-lasting trust than brands that are not. 

Brands that do not engage with fans online, especially when fans are actively trying to engage with it, will be seen as insincere and untrustworthy. Consumers want to know they can access a real person on the other end of the line, and that that person will hear them, be honest, and help fix their problem.

Transparency can be scary for brands because they want to carefully control information about them. But transparency is becoming more and more essential with the access to information consumers already have. And if brands don't get involved in the conversation, then they will allow false information to be perpetuated. Then when the brand decides to get involved, it may be too late.

Note: This post was inspired by Mark Schaefer’s blog challenge. You can read more about that here