We all know how much the Ad industry loves a good buzzword.
There are a lot of them being thrown around in the branding world right now, like “authenticity” and “transparency.” The idea is simple, and it’s a good one: The more forthright your brand is with your audience, the stronger their brand loyalty will become, and ultimately the more repeat customers and new converts you’ll see.
It seems to me that despite how popular these concepts are right now, the core idea of honesty in branding isn’t a trend at all. It’s here for a reason, and it’s here to stay.
We did it to ourselves.
Brands (and their agencies) were very dishonest for a very long time, and it turns out consumers aren’t all that dumb after all. Sensitivity to marketing is at an all-time high. And, I would argue, sensitivity to bullshit is even higher. A great example is promoted content. There has been a lot of buzz lately about the dismal user engagement statistics we’re seeing on promoted content vs. non-promoted content on news sites.
The fact is, brands are finding it easier to gain the trust of consumers by simply being honest with them rather than employing tired, antiquated marketing techniques. Brands like Filson, Everlane, and many others are doing this brilliantly, and the beauty is that they’re being honest even about their imperfections.
Filson, despite being known as a model American company, does not manufacture all of its products within our borders. Rather than hiding this fact, Filson openly shares its desire to move in that direction and eventually achieve that goal.
Everlane built its entire business model around “Radical Transparency” with its cut-out-the-middleman campaigns. Not only was it the first apparel brand to open the curtain on the inner workings of the apparel manufacturing and marketing business (and effectively shame the entire industry), it also displays factory information, manufacturing costs, and its own markup for each product it makes.
And those factories?
They don’t consist of attractive twenty-somethings in beautiful Brooklyn lofts. They’re large-scale industrial apparel factories scattered throughout the world. Currently Everlane purchases from four U.S. factories, three European factories, and two Chinese factories. The assumption is that most people would prefer to imagine the former, but interestingly enough it seems to be working for Everlane to show the truth. Probably because it stands up to the plausibility test—it’s a scenario consumers are prepared to believe.
Honesty works because it’s simply much harder for companies to maintain a pretense for very long compared to 20 years ago. The public has more access to data than ever before and chances are, if something doesn’t add-up in your business model, that discrepancy will come to light at some point.
So okay, honesty is great. It’s in your best interest as a brand, because it gains trust with consumers and gives you a powerful moral advantage over your competition.
But there’s a catch to honesty.
For honesty to work for you, you have to be prepared for what comes along with that if, for example, your current business model relies on abusive labor practices in SE Asia, or your finances are not quite in order, clearly it’s not going to help you much to shout to the whole world about it.
Consumers still behave according to market trends, and they still have their own ideas about what your practices should be in the first place. So while honesty is great, the success of that tactic presupposes that you have the right things in place to be honest about.
Let’s go back to Everlane. They can be honest about their factory situation because they’ve very carefully selected factories that maintain globally recognized labor standards. If that weren’t the case, their honesty wouldn’t be doing them many favors because consumers still want those things to be true. What they don’t want is for brand communication to feel deceitful or disingenuous.
This is either great news, or extremely problematic. But as I said at the beginning, honesty is not a trend. So, if this is an issue for you, and you’re looking at a long and difficult road of restructuring some things so you can ultimately be transparent with your consumers, take heart. It will eventually pay off, and you will only be helping yourself in the long run to start that process now.
And then, you can be honest about that.