Transparency in marketing will never happen on a mainstream scale until it is proven to make a competitive return on investment compared to other investments the company could make. Instead of hiring a marketing team to market and leverage the company’s transparency and all that is associated with that, they could hire a marketing team to push the needle on paid advertising. The latter currently being more profitable. The problem for transparency in marketing is that the old tactics still work. Those tactics transform and develop, but advertising is still advertising. Transparency is a new element that has not found its place yet. Some companies experiment with it and see some pay off, but those companies are rare. The ones that do succeed with it adopt it as part of their core beliefs; eg. Patagonia.
I wonder if this concept could be tested against the technology adoption curve – Crossing the Chasm. There are early adopters, it needs to be proven, and has the opportunity to be fully adopted or to flop. The product is the marketing tactic and the consumers are businesses. Let’s dig into this deeper. I have inserted a diagram below.
Here’s a quick walkthrough of the technology adoption curve so we are on the same page. To have a successful technology focused product, there is a chasm we have to jump from the early adopters to the mainstream market. To successfully make this jump we have to convince early adopters to first adopt our product. No surprise, but also no small task. Once they try it out, they have to like it and share with the rest of the world how much they like it. Then the mainstream market can look at those reviews and see whether that new technology can fit into their lives. If they cannot make that relation, the product fails.
Now replace technology related products with the business practice of transparency, and replace the consumers, early adopters and mainstream market, with businesses. Does this model hold up for transparency catching on as a business practice or not? We have early adopters; companies like Patagonia, Zappos, Timberland, etc. who are testing out this product of transparency. Their success is the review for the mainstream market. The mainstream market are household brand names, ie. Starbucks, Coke, and Exxon to name a few. They all vary in which section of the mainstream market they belong. Starbucks might be a Pragmatist, Coke Conservative, and Exxon a Skeptic. Regardless, this group of businesses is whom transparency has to be proven to.
If these companies fail, or begin to fail due to their transparency, the chasm will not have been crossed. Transparency will become a thing of the past. The reviews will be out and the verdict decided. However, what if the companies actually succeed? Or even have more success due to being transparent? What then? Does transparency automatically cross the chasm? Unfortunately no. It is not that easy. There are other factors at play. There is competition. Like I mentioned before, a company has a certain amount of money to allocate towards their marketing efforts. Spending it on being transparent has to have its pay offs. Not only a competitive pay off compared to other marketing strategies, but a substantial one. Being transparent has to have such an amazing reward that it would be stupid not to adopt it.
What could that reward be besides money? There are some marketing strategies that will always have a home, and advertising is one of them. It is just too good of a return on the investment. But that return is a short lived return. Hence why there is always advertisements for almost everything imaginable. Transparency does not offer such a quick turnaround in returns on investment. No, it rather sucks at doing that. To better understand what it does best, we have to break it down.
To be transparent means to be authentic and forthcoming of all good and bad things taking place behind the curtain. It is as if the walls of your business were built from glass. Now, to any normal company this is something that would cause great stress. But for the consumer, it is knowledge. And knowledge is power. When the company gives absolute power to the consumer two things happen. First, the consumer can make a more educated decision on whether or not to support that company. Second, the company is forced to put both their feet forward, not just their best. So they clean up both feet. There’s nothing to be worried about if there is nothing worrying. So in the end, the company has healthier business practices and the consumer knows it and supports it. What does that mean? Loyalty. Something an advertisement can’t buy.
So what makes transparency so obvious to adopt that it would be stupid not to? Having customers be more than a wallet. Have them be in on it. Give them some skin in the game. Instead of telling them what to buy, give them the deck and let them choose which card to pick. Because if they pick your card, their more than likely a fan for life.
Will transparency cross the chasm into mainstream businesses? We have yet to find out. The consumer is the deciding factor in the end. If they care enough, they’ll seek out the businesses that are honest with them. If not, they will continue to spend their money on whatever is shoved in front of their face. That is a dumbed down extreme example but it carries some unfortunate truth. Obviously we are seeing a trend in consumers caring more or transparency wouldn’t even be adopted by any businesses. Now we wait to see if this trend will continue with enough momentum. It’ll need to break out of being a trend and become an everyday business practice. A day where it’s mainstream to be honest to your consumers on a grand scale. What a day that’ll be. The secret that businesses don’t know yet, is everyone, including them, would all be better off.