One of the most important buzzwords of our digital age is ‘transparency’. Consumers expect companies to be open and sincere about what they stand for and what they are working on. Many companies are trying to adopt this approach. We all know the McDonald’s clip showing a professional hamburger photo shoot. This clip came about because so many consumers were asking about the difference between the actual burger they buy at McDonald’s and the beautiful burger on the billboards. Open communication of this nature can only be applauded. The clip received thousands of views and was generally well-received.
Transparency, not naivety
Transparency is important and it’s a good thing, but there are limits. We must distinguish between openness and naivety; there’s a difference between openness on the one hand and killing the mystique on the other. Several years ago I visited Efteling Park on business. The park itself was closed at that time of year. When I asked if we could take a look behind the scenes, I was told that wasn’t possible because ‘you also come here with your children and we don’t want to spoil the Efteling magic.’ I thought that was a wonderful answer. In my opinion, Efteling is a company with an open and pleasant communication policy. You get to glimpse what goes on behind the scenes, but always in a way that is in keeping with the Efteling image.
The limit? The Mickey Mouse rule.
The true art of transparent communication is being able to communicate openly in a way that suits the brand. The consumer doesn’t expect you to spoil the magic. After all, who cares what the guy in the Mickey Mouse suit looks like? There’s a big difference between dismantling the magic and being kept in the loop where the park’s new ideas and concepts are concerned. Fans are for instance interested in hearing how the management level sees the future. When mistakes are made, the consumer expects a correct and honest answer. Things like this make for more transparency. Transparent communication actually boils down to telling the truth about certain choices; it’s certainly not about spoiling the magic. Set your own Mickey Mouse limit and determine how far you want to go without crossing the boundaries you’ve set.
Don’t abuse the words ‘transparency’ and ‘openness’
It would be a shame if a small group of people were to take advantage of the words ‘transparency’ and ‘openness’ to try and force companies into revealing every last detail. Transparency and openness are such beautiful words, but in all likelihood they are also two of the most frequently abused words. Some merely use them when it’s to their advantage to do so. By the way, when transparency is used for opportunistic reasons, it may well have the opposite effect.
So let’s be grateful for companies that have learned to communicate transparently, clearly and unambiguously with regard to their choices and policy, their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s not force them into revealing more than strictly necessary. We’re not supposed to lift the magic veil surrounding brands and companies. These two aspects feed off each other and there’s no conflict between protecting the mystique and transparent communication.
Steven Van Belleghem is inspirator at B-Conversational. He is an inspirator, a coach and gives strategic advice to help companies better understand the world of conversations, social media and digital marketing. In 2010, he published his first book The Conversation Manager, which became a management literature bestseller and was awarded with the Marketing Literature Prize. In 2012, The Conversation Company was published. Steven is also part time Marketing Professor at the Vlerick Management School. He is a former managing partner of the innovative research agency InSites Consulting.
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