The customer-brand relationship is more complicated than ever before. A transaction used to be simple: a brief exchange of money for goods and services and the parting of ways— no lingering data concerns. But today, brands are requesting personal information from consumers online in exchange for content, educational materials, platform access—before a purchase is ever made. How organizations are handling customer information has both raised eyebrows and closed wallets.
Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal has users not only ditching the social media platform, but questioning the organization’s corporate values and transparency paradox. After all, users provide Facebook with a treasure trove of personal information without receiving clear instruction on how that data is stored and applied. Users came to expect personalized advertisements within the platform, but not for their valuable data to be shared with unauthorized third-parties. This one-sided relationship came to a head when it was revealed just how poorly Facebook had mismanaged the personal information of nearly 50 million users.
Empowered consumers have every right to distrust, and reject, brands that behave recklessly in the shadows. Corporate transparency is being trotted out as a brand value in times of crisis when, in reality, it’s much more effective as a preventative measure.
In the case of the Facebook scandal, or the Equifax breach, the longer the admission of guilt process is drawn out, the greater the severity of customer backlash. With access to the Internet, consumers are armed with more information about the brands they conduct business with and expect increased transparency. The organizations that are obliging with these expectations, and implementing such values into their brand strategy, are seeing increased brand loyalty as a result of open and honest communication with customers and society at large.
Build Trust with Authenticity
In a society hallmarked by the free sharing of information, business leaders are waking up to the critical need to build trust. In fact, PwC reports that 55% of today’s global CEOs are concerned about lack of consumer trust. Despite the consensus that trust is a necessary brand asset, why are so many brands neglecting it? Trust, after all, cannot be built overnight.
The first step in establishing trust is to convey authenticity. Instead of purposely trying to build trust, which can appear disingenuous to consumers, brands should focus their efforts on being authentic. Being genuinely authentic sometimes means letting go of your company’s ironclad control of the brand and letting your customers shape it. This sincere display of brand identity must be harmonized across all facets of your organization—starting with leadership and branching out across marketing platforms into customer service. Employees must be the champions for authenticity and transparency, not just spreading the brand message, but showcasing it by consistently acting with integrity.
The byproducts of authenticity are worth the perceived effort. Employees are increasingly proud to work for a company that values honesty, driving up productivity. Consumers are also more likely to rally around a brand that values authenticity during a potential scandal. When Toyota faced criticism due to safety woes, brand loyalists rallied around the auto manufacturer. One customer was quoted saying: “I will be as loyal and supportive to them as they have been to me. I am confident in their solution.” In an age where brand criticism can permanently mar an organization, this kind of customer support is invaluable.
Synchronize Brand Values with Messaging
Consumers want to do business with like-minded brands and companies that hold the same values they do. In today’s increasingly divergent society, business leaders and their public relations staff avoid the outright support of a specific belief or value, often because they fear polarizing and isolating customers. However, inaction can often be more dangerous, as it diminishes transparency.
Once your brand chooses to adopt a value, or social stance, it’s important to stick with it and incorporate that value into future messaging and marketing. After all, consumers will subconsciously associate a brand’s values as a large component of its identity. Content marketing efforts can help educate customers on a company’s core values, reinforcing the character and mission of a company. A brand’s values can be consistently woven into narratives in blog posts, website copy, newsletters and more.
One organization that continually remains true to its corporate values is TOMS Shoes. TOMS is devoted to its corporate responsibility of helping those in need through every purchase. Since its foundation, the company has given more 75 million pairs of shoes to children in need. Today, the organization also provides vision support, clean water and bully prevention services around the world. This mission has created thousands of brand ambassadors, making the brand name synonymous with corporate responsibility through clear and concise messaging through every brand interaction.
Embrace Customer Obsession
Doing the right thing for the customer should always be top-of-mind for any organization and yet, the customer’s experience often takes a back seat to other business goals. If Facebook had considered prioritizing their user’s expectations before providing data access to third-parties, the organization likely wouldn’t find itself the current target of public disdain.
Customer obsession is the idea that a brand’s central goal should be finding and solving the problems consumers face. By reflecting customer expectations and brand delivery, organizations are given the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. Customers are happier when they feel like their voices are being heard, and brands, in turn, are presented with the chance to improve based on individual feedback. Prioritizing the customer experience allows for increased corporate transparency, building both trust and customer loyalty.
In an increasingly connected world, organizations must give transparency precedence as a corporate value and strategy. With an entire universe of information at the fingertips of billions, it is in a brand’s best interest to operate with authenticity in order to build consumer trust. By creating an amazing experience for users based on their own feedback, companies have the opportunity to build a responsible, transparent branding strategy that will outlast a disruptive marketplace.