Transparency has become a buzzword in the communications industry over the past few years, and with good reason. As Dan Neale, founder and managing director at Alfred, said at this year’s PR360 conference: “Data proves purpose-driven brands grow faster than low purpose.”
Purpose-driven brands are more trusted by consumers and more likely to come through difficult economic periods. Business leaders agree, as two-thirds of the leaders surveyed in Alfred’s Brands and Movements report in 2021 say they believe they’ll be more successful by supporting issues that matter to their customers.
So how can brands achieve greater transparency? Neale acknowledged it’s far from easy.
“The reality is that it’s really hard work. Transitioning to a more responsible way of operating is hugely complex, with never-ending bumps in the road and conflicting priorities.”
The problem of greenwashing
The growth of greenwashing over the past few years has intensified some of the issues businesses face in becoming more transparent – when Alfred, in partnership with Sensu Insight, asked 500 communications professionals about the topic, one-in-four said they’ve worked on a project that involved some form of greenwashing, with the wider organisation often not committed to transparency.
Neale added: “When we ask business leaders about how their organisation is adapting to changing demands from consumers, 2% said they were being more open and honest. Despite transparency being a huge topic in communications for a decade or more, it seems to still be a stumbling block.”
Open to scrutiny
This is partly due to negative connotations of the word, with many feeling it leaves the business open to critical examination. “For us as communications people it can feel uncomfortable and puts us on the defensive – it makes us think of the next mess to clean up,” Neale said.
But it’s also well known that transparency builds long-term trust and value for a brand – Neale quoted VICE Insights’ Culture of Trust study in 2022 that found 86% of Gen Z say they trust a transparent brand, while 90% trust a brand that owns up to its mistakes.
While nervousness in an often hostile media environment is understandable, he added: “Admitting to mistakes provides a dose of humanity, breaking down the cliché of corporate stereotypes and taking a step towards business being seen as a force for good.”
Neale said communications teams have a role to play in encouraging brands to be more collaborative, more open and braver when it comes to sharing. “Normalise the setbacks we’re all having. We need to push brands to tell more of the story, because people want to hear it – there is a huge opportunity. There’s a chance for brands to turn challenges or failures into creative or powerful stories.”
He added more teams need to embrace progress over perfection. “Communications teams occupy a unique position as gatekeepers, or the portal between internal and external worlds. We need to bring our teams on board with the idea of progress over perfection. Striving is better than standing still, and ultimately perfection isn’t going to solve anything – but progress will.”
3 transparent brands
Neale highlighted three brands that have adopted a transparent approach:
Oatly: The plant-based milk brand has a website that details all the complaints about the company, responding to each one and either embracing change or standing their ground.
Tony’s Chocolonely: The company's goal is to eradicate slave labour in the chocolate supply chain. On its website, it acknowledges that there is still slavery in its supply chain, gives details and explains how it is tackling it.
All Birds: When Crocs pushed back its net zero commitment by ten years, competitor All Birds commented on its LinkedIn post offering to share their own sustainability learnings with Crocs, rather than keeping things private to maintain competitive advantage. Neale points to this as an example of positive collaboration that can emerge when brands are honest about their failures and challenges.