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3 Considerations in Courting Customer Trust Through Transparency

To a certain degree, we would all like for the brands we choose to do business with to be transparent in certain areas (depending on their business). But from the brand’s perspective, it may be wise to exercise caution before launching a transparency program.

Rick Wion, one of AdWeek’s Top 50 Innovators and currently Senior Director of Consumer Engagement at the Kellogg Company, recently discussed Kellogg’s innovative transparency-based engagement program in a podcast recording. His remarks brought to the surface three concerns a brand will likely want to consider when implementing their own transparency initiatives.


1. What’s the Business Case?

For a food brand, the public’s growing interest in what’s in their food is probably enough of a reason to get started with a transparency program at some level. If nothing else, it’s just good public relations in a highly competitive arena, in which consumer trust is paramount.

Many brands might simply post lists of ingredients and make the communication one-way. In Kellogg’s case, they went beyond what they had to do by engaging consumers online and integrating two related stories of consumer interest:

  1. Sustainability in ingredient sourcing
  2. Giving back to the community

Adding these two areas changed the nature of the program from being reactive to pro-active - and making a program pro-active puts the brand in the driver’s seat.

For brands that don’t have a major public relations issue to cope with, the business case for transparency might be a little murkier, especially in a digital climate wherein every engagement is expected to be measured and (if at all possible) monetized.

  • What will you measure? Consumer attitudes and intent may be measurable, but will you be able to directly connect this information with the generation of a sale or lead?
  • How will you set benchmarks for success?
  • What affect will these efforts have on revenue?

2. Who Should Be Involved?

Like a growing number of digital activities, developing consumer trust through transparency engagement will likely cross departmental lines and break down existing silos. Depending on how the brand is organized and how much it wants to accomplish, the program could involve functional contributions from any or all of the following.

  • Corporate Communications
  • Social Media
  • Marketing
  • Content
  • Community
  • Employee Engagement

3. Are You Opening a Can of Worms?

Any time you ask customers to engage with you online, you open yourself up to criticism - and you need to be ready to deal with it. When inviting engagement on transparency issues, you may find that you have a new audience that is the exact opposite of your best customers. Activists.

The good news about engaging with activists is that they will give you the opportunity to tell your side of the story. You might never be able to do so in a way that satisfies the activist, or changes their mind, but your side of the story might sit very well with your good customers.

When you engage with activists, you will also be found by those who refuse to take no (or yes) for an answer. There will be some people who simply want to argue. How much you want to argue, if at all, is up to you. But you should have a policy in place on how to deal with argumentative individuals.

The Payoff

For a real-world example of how one major brand’s transparency engagement program is working, tune into Rick Wion of Kellogg’s on the Social Business Engine podcast.

Once you and your team take the three considerations discussed here under advisement, you’ll have a better idea of how to move forward with a transparency program that invites customer engagement. 

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