Expert advice on how to build brand transparency

Brand transparency is no longer an option, but a marketing requirement. Seven marketing experts discuss their biggest challenges when it comes to improving brand transparency and consumer trust

1. Nina Bibby: Being relevant and authentic

The ubiquity and pervasiveness of digital channels and social media mean that we live in a more transparent world. Brand inauthenticity, therefore, has never been easier to sniff out by consumers and once their trust is lost redemption is hard to claw back.

“You have to be comfortable that you’re not going to control all the conversations, and therefore end-to-end authenticity and consistency in the brand are essential,” says Nina Bibby, chief marketing officer (CMO) of UK telecommunications services provider O2.

Her ambition is to make O2 “more meaningful and relevant to our customers than ever before”. She continues: “We’ve been able to use technology on some of the issues that matter most, such as helping keep kids safe online. Through our partnership with the NSPCC, we’ve created an online safety quiz that parents and their children can play together through Alexa.

“Organisations must face issues that are pertinent to them. Brands can do this by showing leadership on the larger issues affecting society. This challenge – to be part of culture in an authentic way – is something that all of us as marketers should have front of mind.”

2. Omer Shai: Empowering users to tell their stories

A vast majority of business gurus will advise it is critical, these days, to put the customer at the heart of everything. Providing a platform for consumers on which they can promote both themselves and the product is a clever move. If carefully managed, creates a virtuous circle.

Omer Shai, CMO of leading website-building platform wix.com, says: “As a company that focuses mainly on product, our challenge and opportunity is making sure the stories of our users, their needs and successes, are consistently evident in what we create. By lifting up our users, we are able to market real successes.

“This is inherently transparent and the challenge becomes ensuring we are able to be bold and creative without losing sight of our goal: telling their stories.”

He says the basis for trust comes from “customers believing they are being heard and a company is responsive to their needs”, adding: “We trust our customers and give a lot of credence to their opinions. We believe that nurturing and building these relationships is a key component to everything we do.”

3. Annabel Rake: Difficult questions and big issues

Annabel Rake, CMO for Deloitte in northwest Europe, posits a societal shift in attitude towards workplace wellbeing, diversity and gender equality means organisations will lose credibility with a back-foot approach. Rather, they should embrace this change and lead by example to generate and boost customer, as well as employee, trust.

“Whether as consumers of a product, or as clients of a business, people want to have trust and confidence in the brand they are choosing to be associated with,” says Ms Rake. “This brings with it the expectation people can ask questions that may never have been anticipated even a couple of years ago.

“Common questions now asked include those concerning the treatment of the workers who make a product, the gender diversity of the team providing a service or a list of the third parties that a business uses. While there is not always an obligation to answer, if they don’t, brands can be perceived as trying to cover up a problem.”

4. Tom Libretto: Trust through data transparency

“Establishing and maintaining trust-based relationships between brands and their customers has always been the bedrock of any sustainable commercial enterprise, and the primary objective of any CMO worth their salt,” says Tom Libretto, CMO of American software company Pegasystems.

Technology has made us more wary, which means it’s harder for businesses to gain the trust of customers. Mr Libretto continues: “We’re all citizens of a world that has rapidly shifted from a spirit of ‘assume best intentions’ to one that is dominated by scepticism. This is largely fuelled by always-on access to a continuous drumbeat of stories that expose bad actors and call out the fiduciary flaws of companies which don’t know how to properly manage customer data.”

A recent Pega survey revealed that 69 per cent of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that handles their data transparently. “Companies that recognised the opportunity the General Data Protection Regulation presented have been able to harness the legislation as a means of establishing trust, not eroding it,” he says.

5. David Pugh-Jones: Collaborating with passionate partners

Adding transparency through advertising “is a worm hole”, according to David Pugh-Jones, CMO of LIFElabs.io, a philanthropic fintech company powered by blockchain technology. “Building long-term trust takes time and can be lost in a heartbeat. The clear challenge is to source creative partners that are as passionate about your product as you are, competitive and fiercely proud to work with you.”

Collaboration and communication between in-house teams and external agencies is critical. “Alignment and the sharing of insights between internal tech and development teams working side by side with marketing teams can be a challenge,” says Mr Pugh-Jones. “Each department speaks another language; sometimes it can be practically alien.”

Data, though, “is your best friend”, he says, adding: “What you have readily available in insights can enable you to make better-informed decisions on what programmes have a real chance of succeeding. Offering a voice to all those involved can reap huge rewards. Too many times I’ve seen the data researcher deliver an idea that made the creatives sit back in awe.”

6. Julia Goldin: Keeping brand purpose clear

“While brands are challenged to find ways to drive deeper and more meaningful connections with consumers in a world of constant change, a strong, simple purpose can be a guiding ‘North Star’,” says Julia Goldin, global CMO for the LEGO Group.

“For more than six decades, the LEGO brick has been on a mission to ‘inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow’. We want to get children thinking creatively, reasoning systematically and releasing their potential so they can shape their own future. This clear, simple purpose has built a brand that is loved by young and old around the world.”

However, while a brand’s purpose may remain the same over the years, its offering must evolve to keep pace with customer expectations. “Through the adoption and integration of technology in our products, we are able to build even more meaningful and helpful relationships with our customers, while simultaneously inspiring further learning, development and creativity,” says Ms Goldin.

“Brands grounded in a clear purpose can drive innovation and ensure they remain inspiring, trusted and loved from one generation to the next.”

7. Leela Srinivasan: Leaning into the feedback economy

Leela Srinivasan, CMO of SurveyMonkey, an online survey development cloud-based software-as-a-service company, believes organisations that attempt to understand the “why” behind consumer choices will gain favour.

“Our research shows that 63 per cent of consumers think marketers are selling them things they don’t need,” she says. “Trust plays a role for 89 per cent of Brits when making a big purchase. Clearly, brands have work to do: we’re not listening closely enough to understand how to add value for our customers.”

Data-driven insights help, but should be allied with good old-fashioned human interaction, argues Ms Srinivasan. “While many companies leverage operational data to fuel artificial intelligence, machine-learning and more personalised customer experiences, the savviest organisations are leaning into what we call the feedback economy,” she says.

“In an unprecedented era of global transparency, digital experience-sharing and desire to be heard, marketers can further enrich the dataset by shedding light on the ‘why’ behind consumer choices. This can only be done by asking real customers for their opinions and preferences that map back to true needs.”