How to build trust using radical transparency

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The phrase 'radical transparency' seems easy enough to understand in a nutshell, right? Stay open with your consumers, be honest about company flaws and hold your brand accountable for wrongdoings or miscommunications.

In many ways, experienced PRs already embrace these values and have seen the benefits of fostering open and conscious relationships with various stakeholders. However, the PR industry has also been built on the premise that the brand is never wrong (at least not as far as the public can tell) - and herein lies the contradictory rub.

The very foundations of public relations are built on brand positioning, reputation management and crisis communications, with the end goal of having a company come out of every complicated situation in a favourable light. Millions of pounds are put into achieving these goals, and the repercussions for failing come in devastating shapes and forms. In some instances, 'failure' can have a significant impact on brand perception and cut into the bottom line.

Holding your brand accountable and behaving with integrity often works in its favour but that is in the context of a controlled release, deciding what is shared with the public and the extent of its severity.

Now, some brands are embracing the idea that extreme and radical openness, from a utilitarian standpoint, is what’s good for the whole. And, what’s good for the whole is good for the brand, in the sense that it fosters the right culture and helps company’s stand out in an increasingly busy marketing landscape. In theory, it makes sense but it’s not without its challenges.

Radical transparency is not the easy choice

The first, and most important thing to note here is that radical transparency across the board means your company can’t choose when it wants to be transparent and when it doesn’t. If your brand is evolved in a significant blunder, you’ll need to be just as open and accommodating as you are with a minor faux pas, which means greater risk management planning and resource expenditure. But all told, for the sake of authenticity, you need to be consistent with this across the board.

We also know that this approach works better with certain segments, based on their values and the changing nature of society. For example, we know that Millennials and Generation-Z are more likely to respond to authenticity, sincerity and openness. Conversely, latchkey kids, boomers and Generation-X will place less value on these attributes and more on personalised communication, familiar processes, a position of trust and professionalism.

Identify the “why”. So, before you can even perfect the art of transparency, you need to decide on the extent that you prioritise it, based on your key segments. Of course, this is a blanket statement to some extent, so company culture, brand identity and values should be deciding factors as well, and might even outweigh playing it safe - the crux of the matter is that you need to focus on the "why?".

Getting started

There are a few ways you can begin to think about implementing radical transparency:

  • Know your consumer. In-depth market research and consumer analyses can help you identify which values are most important to your consumers, their sentiment towards your brand and the reaction to specific communications. This will help you navigate a challenging environment of radical transparency and extreme accountability.
  • Plan for risk. Radical transparency means increased risk through backlash and opinion. Create a thorough risk management plan that has preemptive elements (phrase tracking, alerts, mention monitoring), ongoing elements (customer service, promotion, delight) and crisis management responses (set roles, templatise customisable responses).
  • Embrace accountability. Accountability can be beneficial for businesses too, beyond a PR exercise or strategic approach. It lies at the heart of how we define corporate governance. Taking ownership builds trust, it allows for problems to be resolved more quickly, it empowers leaders and doers, as opposed to creating powerless victims and it has proven time and cost savings.
  • Up your communication. The more open you are about your brand’s flaws, the more open you will need to be in discussing them with consumers, managing reactions and emotions and showcasing your understanding of how and why negative situations came to be.

Radical transparency in action

If there’s any lesson to be learned here it’s that true disruption is not easy and stems from bravery; and what’s braver than a strategy of radical transparency in an industry where the finer details are often kept far from the public eye? When disruptor bank, Monzo, managed to crowdfund over £20m, the industry was abuzz with news about the new kid on the block, which could potentially take on some of the UK’s biggest banks.

And, take them on it did, beating out financial stalwarts in the race for customer favour and taking the top spot as Britain’s best bank for customer service, according to a Which? annual survey. So, how did they do it? Through a combination of innovation, product development and customer engagement - and, most famously, their aforementioned approach of radical transparency.

Join the Meltwater webinar

In the next Meltwater webinar, Monzo’s VP of Marketing, Tristan Thomas, will personally delve into how Monzo built trust with the public using radical transparency. You can save your seat now and join them on the 21st of February from 11am to 12pm for the full scoop.

Wesley Mathew, head of marketing, Meltwater

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