Written by Radoslav Ratkovic on May 28, 2015
in Brand Strategy

Consumer loyalty is the ultimate goal for any brand. Everything that every company does should ultimately ladder up to the goal of achieving consumer loyalty. And, to be clear, by loyalty I don’t mean “loyalty program” – a term used for points, perks, and rewards. By loyalty I mean an unwavering allegiance to something.

When you think about it, throughout the history of marketing (and human) communication, there’s one thing that has always been and always will be the foundation of a loyal relationship – honesty.

In today’s always-connected world, corporate honesty has been labeled as hyper-transparency and it happens to be the trend. Hyper-transparency has become the antithesis to the traditional marketing idea of controlling the message, which has left massive brands trying to figure out how to position themselves on topics such as social responsibility or sustainability. Brands that manage to embrace this trend will see the benefits in consumer trust. “Next year the best brands won’t be those with the best stories, or sort of made up fictional stories, but those that will give an accurate and real time picture of what they are doing in the interest of the consumer, at any given time.” [source]

This is a difficult concept for many, while to some, it seems pretty intuitive. Either way, it is the right way forward. Let’s look at some brands that do it right and some that don’t.

 

Starbucks

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“Hyper-transparency is a must. It’s not something we should be afraid of; it’s something we welcome.”

Jim Hanna, Environmental Impact Director, Starbucks

Ever since they were portrayed in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me as the headquarters of Dr. Evil, Starbucks has been a brand that isn’t afraid to laugh at itself. It’s that kind of corporate culture that opened up the door to hyper-transparency.

We’re putting stakes in the ground for accountability and taking customers on the journey in meeting our targets. We’ll share the bumps and bruises – our failure stories along with our success stories,” says Hanna, and Starbucks’ actions reflect this statement.

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This includes Starbucks giving customers their say on products found in their stores through their open online forum, My Starbucks Idea. Customers can suggest new products, like gluten-free pastries, and vote on others they don’t like. As a brand, Starbucks is an example of hyper-transparency in action.

 

McDonald’s

nayMcDonald’s has been scrutinized and criticized for the use of “pink slime” in their burgers and as a response, they created “Your Questions. Our Answers.” – a global “transparency” campaign that invites the public to ask questions about the company’s products.

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http://yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca/

While there is certainly something interesting about this campaign, at the end of the day it is a glorified PR move, not a brand-wide shift towards hyper-transparency.

What’s wrong with it? In my opinion, it comes from the wrong place. The McDonald’s campaign is in fact a defense against customer complaints, not a transparency campaign. It serves the sole purpose of clearing McDonald’s name in the eyes of consumers.

While I do agree this was a courageous move, aimed at acknowledging the importance of creating a kinship with consumers, it is shame that they were hailed as Marketer of the Year in 2012 for this campaign. Some brands allow customers to have their say on product offerings, while others get awards for trying to save their image.

And while a part of me feels like I’m beating a dead horse here, let’s not forget the magnitude of this brand and the effect it has on consumers. McDonald’s has a serious image problem, which might explain its sudden willingness for “transparency” as a way to shed its reputation for serving mass-produced, unhealthy food.

Showing the public how their food is made may win favour with some consumers, but a better strategy would be to make truly meaningful commitments to sustainability instead of simply reacting to consumer complaints.

 

Zappos

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“An Inside look into Zappos.com” may seem like a well-exercised promotional video, but the anecdote I heard from Terry O’Reilly on Under the Influence only solidifies Zappos in their effort to add transparency and continue their commitment to consumers:

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh took some clients out for a night on the town once. After the bar closed, they all went back to their hotel. One of his clients had a yearning for a pizza, but it was 2 a.m., the hotel kitchen was closed. So Hsieh suggested she call Zappos and see if they could find her a pizza.

You have to understand what he just suggested – he told his client to call his company – a fashion retailer – at two in the morning – and ask for a pizza.

So Hsieh’s client called Zappos and asked for a pizza. There was a short pause on the other end of the line, then the Zappos operator found three pizza stores near the hotel that were still open, and ordered the pizza.

That moment floored the clients, but I bet it didn’t surprise Tony Hsieh. Because he has instilled in his company an overwhelming desire to make customers happy.

That’s why Zappos reached $1 billion in sales in only their eighth year of business.

Companies founded on the principle that their audience aren’t easily replaceable consumers, but highly valuable customers, have nothing to hide and don’t need dedicated transparency campaigns. Their honesty and authenticity shines through in every public-facing facet of their business. Their customer loyalty isn’t bought by transparency campaigns, it’s earned through brand experience.

As we outlined in our latest white paper Suffering from premachurn?, customer experience and brand experience are the same thing. True transparency is when your brand values and your customer experiences align throughout every step of the customer journey.

Radoslav Ratkovic is the Head of Digital Creative at Ariad Communications.

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