Mining the New Consumer Desire for Transparency

June 15th, 2016 Posted by Brand preference, Insight, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Mining the New Consumer Desire for Transparency”

“Open the curtain and invite users in to see the inner workings of how you do what you do.”

For decades food and beverage brand images, personalities and perceptions were carefully cultivated – a form of theater presented with great care and skill. And always projected as the master brand storytellers wanted the impression to be shaped and nuanced.

The same could be said about specific products and services, again showcased with a focus on what was designed to be alluring and attractive, packaged in an appealing and hopefully compelling (persuasive?) way.

Now the world has shifted to consumers poking, prodding, pulling, and in some cases, shredding the theatrical artifice in an effort to understand the real. To go behind the curtain and see more fully and completely what companies and brands are truly made of.

People are no longer content to be the passive one-way audience, consuming the brand screenplay story with passive arms and ears.

Instead, we want to go backstage and examine the props and the rigging. We want to meet the author and ask questions. We want to know the story behind the story.

This is why transparency is so vital, because it has the effect of humanizing the company, the business, and its products. Moreover, transparency is mission critical given the consumer’s thirst to know more, see more, understand more in this era of inherent skepticism and equal desire for trust.

The great leveling of playing fields this creates is truly remarkable! Why? Because it forces the issue of real over fake, of honesty over hyperbole, of authentic over staged. It makes everyone better when you look close up, like the judges on Project Runway when they physically touch and examine the designers’ handiwork without the showbiz runway lights and blaring sound track.

Shortening the distance from company to consumer, moving out of the fresnel lights, bringing the process and commitments and ingredients up close has the effect of saying “this is what we made, how we made it and the craftsmanship and care that went into it.”

The effort to drop the artifice improves everyone’s game.

Fear no longer founded, says new study

A recent national quantitative study among consumers by CivicScience revealed that consumers are reacting positively to efforts by food and beverage companies to improve their nutritionals.

For years, companies worked behind the curtain to enact reductions in sodium, fat and added sugars without saying anything due to concerns that nutritional improvement would mean taste sacrifice to consumers.

For example, CivicScience found that 68% of consumers would continue to buy or increase their purchases of Nestle products upon learning of their moves to reduce sodium levels. Thus, it is now a good thing to take ownership openly of efforts to make better-for-you improvements.

If the world is driven by honesty, how should that impact brand communications?

  • Walking the walk comes before talking the talk.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • The proof points are in what you do more than what you say.

Behavior precedes any conversation

Let it also be known that trust springs from the words of other brand fans, so social proof and word of mouth combined are more influential than manufactured stories a brand may publish about itself.

Still, the question remains, how should brands craft communications and messaging in an environment that works against self-reverential assertions of superiority?

Stop selling and start validating!

You must first find creative ways to answer the question, why should I believe you? Just because you can claim it doesn’t make it so. Media channel selection matters, such as earned. The voices of credible influencers are key to proof. Right behind their voices is the social proof brought by members of the brand’s community.

Here’s guidance:

  1. Speak with an honest voice – tone and manner matter.
  1. Show rather than tell.
  1. Bring your higher purpose to the table and wear it like a coat.
  1. Open the curtain and invite users in to see the inner workings of how you do what you do.
  1. Work backwards from what your core consumer cares about, and be an enabler of their passions and needs.
  1. Humanize the company by allowing voices of key staff to weigh in.

We recently helped client Schuman Cheese, the leading Italian cheese company, create the industry’s first trust mark, True Cheese®, as proof of authenticity, quality and compliance to the Standards of Identity for the cheeses they make.

See what transparency looks like by visiting

It is a form of walking the walk, and inviting a look behind the curtain.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for  higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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