When you're a marketer, the expectation of putting a positive spin on your messaging comes with the territory. For years, we've filtered data to only reflect successful results, or to ensure it supports the conclusion we want to promote. The problem with this approach is that audiences just don't buy it as much as they used to. Today's prospects want to see all of our cards, even if this means having to bring contradictions, or even failures, to light.
Any organization that understands this recognizes the power of a transparent marketing approach. A number of companies have recently taken up this strategy and have started sharing internal information on campaign performance and internal stats. Adopting an "upfront" marketing attitude, in which real numbers and reports are published in blog posts, is the quickest way to build trust with your audience.
Offering internal data gives prospects a chance to learn directly from your processes, mistakes, and triumphs - and respect your willingness to share them. Needless to say, delivering honest content marketing is a key component in today's theories of brand psychology and social proof.
In a recent post from Quick Sprout, Neil Patel calls transparency the 'new marketing." According to Patel, "Being open about your business is a great way to gain people's trust and loyalty. Sharing problems you may be facing, or by sharing your financial numbers (whether they are good or bad) will help you build a larger following." The trust that accompanies this transparency not only helps cultivate a solid following for your company, but can also aid in converting more visitors into customers.
Corporate Transparency, Meet Content Marketing
Call it extreme, but Buffer, a company that built a popular social media marketing tool, was willing to publish a post discussing the salaries of every employee - a very powerful example of transparent content.
If you're wondering as to whether or not this transparency paid off, this single blog post has received 381 comments as of January 12, 2015! That's quite an audience - and tremendous engagement.
"When we first established the Buffer values that we wanted to have as the center of our company culture, we knew that sticking to these ideas would be an incredible challenge," wrote Buffer Co-Founder and CEO Joel Gascoigne. "Especially since we've seen before that these values can easily end up being little more than a set of words written on a piece of paper."
In this December 2013 piece, Gascoigne explains that the second value on Buffer's list, "Default to Transparency," presented them with a bit of a challenge for how best to convey such a message. "Sticking to radical transparency was probably both one of the most frightening and exciting things to do over the past months," said Gascoigne. "It has meant to open up and make ourselves extremely vulnerable for ideas, since they were easily accessible to everyone on the team."
If Gascoigne wanted to achieve extreme vulnerability, he certainly did so through the information he made available to everyone inside - and outside - of his team. Likening transparency to breaking down barriers, Buffer opened up all of the doors at his company's multiple locations to display not only what each employee was making, but the formula for how they arrived at such a salary.
Why Content Marketing Transparency Fosters Trust
Transparency isn't exactly a brand new concept, and it certainly isn't limited to modern marketing. For example, think about the last networking event you attended. You undoubtedly crossed paths with lots of people, and probably even struck up a conversation with some - but only connected with a few.
So, who are you finding that connection with? The smooth-talking salesperson? Maybe. But it's more likely you swapped business cards with him or her to put an end to the conversation, and walk away.
What about the person who spoke - not to you, but with you, openly and honestly? What about the person who discussed his or her company's strengthen, and even offered up areas which are currently being worked on, and don't exist quite yet?
Who are you more likely to trust? Who are you more likely to follow-up with? The answer is obvious.
In his post, Patel asks, "Why not be yourself with people? Lying and beating around the bush will just make your life more complex." Similarly, we should ask ourselves, "Why not be yourself - open, honest, and forthcoming - with your audience and customers?"
Why Taking a Transparent Approach is Worth the Risk
The truth is, with the tons of information available online, even if you aren't transparent in your content, it's just a matter of time before your prospects discover the truth - somewhere else.
In the digital age, there's enough information out there for your audience - and your competition - to sift through and uncover anything that you've been doing, anyway. Isn't it better to be up front with them from the start, and gain traffic and engagement from this approach?
Companies gradually understand that customers want to be spoken with honestly, and even more importantly - as people. On the flip side, prospects are much more apt to research a company in-depth, and consult a number of resources before making a purchase. Marketing jargon no longer has the power it once held; today, people are simply looking for the truth.