New Moral Economies

Radically Changing Relationships

PART OF TRUTH’S ‘NEW MORAL ECONOMIES’ SERIES:
 
A range of cultural shifts are leading us to demand more of our brands and, ultimately, to expect a new type of consumer-brand relationship.
 

To start, rising distrust in governments and media has spread to brands - we increasingly want to know more about the products we use and the processes that go into making them. Secondly, our growing power to share and influence opinion on brands means we expect them to do more to connect with our values, especially with such a glut of choice available. Finally, a rise in the importance of cultural capital, over overt signs of wealth, means more of us are looking to brands with ‘good’ values to help us show ourselves as smart and thoughtful consumers.

Overall, these shifts call for all brands to be more transparent about why and how they do business. For new brands in particular, this offers an exciting opportunity to take things one step further and be radically transparent, to disrupt the market and create a stronger consumer-brand relationship based ostensibly on deep trust – a challenging thing for a brand to build and hold onto.

Being radically transparent means adopting a new approach to engaging with consumers: seeing them not just as people to please, but as business partners that demand openness, trust and respect. It goes beyond simply promoting the inner workings of the brand to actually changing how you do business and the conversation you have with consumers.

Here are 3 disruptor brands who have successfully made radical transparency a founding principle of their business:

  • EverLane – An ethical fashion brand best known for pricing transparency. The brand shows itemised cost breakdown for all its products, from material to transport costs. Then, if supply chain costs go down, that reduction will be passed onto the consumer so they will always pay a fair price and never suffer traditional high retail mark-ups.
  • The Ordinary – A beauty brand best known for product transparency. The brand was founded to offer results-driven products with ingredients that are well known, well proven but at affordable prices. The brand’s founder claims “There is nothing ‘luxurious’ or ‘educated’ about overpaying for a commodity, no matter how effective that commodity is.” Its focus on affordable pricing also means it foregoes fancy packaging and marketing to drive financial wins for business and consumer.
  • ClearAid – A technology brand set-up to offer operational transparency for non-profit organisations, after a spate of scandals impacted public trust and reduced charitable giving. ClearAid has created a donation platform that uses a blockchain system to record and store donations made and has combined this technology with smart contracts that can result in refunds to donors if specific charity goals are not met.

Of course, becoming radically transparent, and changing business processes accordingly, is not something every brand can easily do; but treating consumers as business partners is. Some well-established brands have changed the consumer-brand dynamic with a new tone of voice that respects the opinions and intellect of its consumer to drive trust – we term this ‘radical honesty’.

  • Oasis - The drinks brand’s latest summer print campaign includes messages such as: “It’s Summer. You’re Thirsty. We’ve got sales targets” and “Just another poster trying to sell you something”. This approach strives to break through consumer cynicism with a tongue firmly implanted in the cheek - especially for the younger and often more sceptical audience the brand targets.
  • Facebook – Not an example of best practice but a word of warning on the difficulty of striking the right balance between openness and honesty. After the recent data scandal, Facebook is trying to regain the trust of its users by launching an advert that acknowledges its issues and promises to get back to what made it great. However, the brand has come under criticism for not fully admitting its mistakes in its advert, instead claiming ‘something happened’ – as if they had no control over having to “deal with span, clickbait, fake news and data misuse.”

Other big brands are trying to break down the walls between back and front of shop by making their supply chains more transparent. Adidas, Reebok and IKEA are amongst those leading the charge in showing their commitment to sustainable change. But whilst there has been a lot of progress towards brand transparency in this area, the emergence of new disrupter brands, such as EverLane, shows consumers that there is still a lot more that can be done.  

Looking into the future, consumers will only continue to push brands to do better business and build more honest relationships. How brands approach this challenge will require careful thinking, but whether a brand takes a radically honest or radically transparent approach to the consumer-brand relationship, the learning is ….to get deep trust, you need to give consumers the respect they deserve.