No Place to Hide: Three Ways Brands Can Face Fearful Consumers and Embrace Radical Transparency

Posted on March 10, 2016 by Marian Salzman

O Palsson

Originally posted on Forbes.com.

In today’s world, citizens are plagued by the all-too-constant soundtrack of terrorism worries, mass shootings, and race and gender relations. This “age of the fearful consumer” has created a paradox, according to a new U.S. study (fielded by my parent company, Havas Worldwide): While people are looking to businesses to help solve society’s problems, they’re also fretting over the fact that corporations have more power than some countries.

The answer for many brands has been to stay under the radar. Why risk raising additional concern? Yet all the while, they’re ignoring one simple truth: Consumers respond to a clear vision for a better world and are hungry for change agents.

Look no further than the current presidential election for proof. It’s shaping up to be one of the ugliest in history, with anger, outrage and extremism as its defining features. This campaign cycle, it’s trendy to skew highly progressive or deeply conservative. Why? Because people are rallying around clear stances from candidates and clinging to the hope of a better tomorrow. Ultimately, the only thing that can defeat fear is a fearless leader.

What has been working for people like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump might actually be a good move for companies, too. Now that it’s no longer dangerous to bellow on behalf of something that really matters to constituents, brands can start benefiting from taking a stand.

Here are three tips for embracing radical transparency and communicating clearly defined values:

  1. Assume there are no secrets and that oversharing is the topline order. This means telling true stories, sharing the gritty details of agreements, and responding to the savory and less-than-sugary comments people make in the big zeitgeist about your brand, your organization and the broader world—without engaging in the superfluous or the deeply diabolical lunatic fringe. Take a cue from Everlane, a direct-to-consumer fashion brand that has full-heartedly embraced radical transparency. The company offers supplier information on its website to give customers a clear understanding of how and where their products were made, along with an in-depth cost breakdown.
  1. Know the universe—all stakeholders and their wants, needs, attitudes, beliefs and values. And speak their language bluntly, boldly and without saccharin. Figure out the FAQ and get ahead of them with open and honest answers—and feature these questions and answers online with easy access. Line up spokespeople who can speak extemporaneously to make sure candid topics get addressed without fear and trepidation but as business as usual.
  1. Make sure that your principled stance is directly related to your industry or business. There have been some missteps recently, with high-profile companies such as Starbucks overestimating how much customers want to hear about their ideology and opinions on controversial issues. The lesson here: Don’t just shout an opinion on every possible issue. While consumers are clamoring for companies to be heroes, they don’t necessarily want to talk about race with their baristas.

It’s ridiculous to think you can simply be invisible these days. Rather than shy away from issues, the winning strategy is to clearly communicate values that truly resonate with your customers—and give them something to believe in.

In the age of the fearful consumer, brands can’t be afraid to come out of hiding.

[photo: creativecommons.org/O Palsson]

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