The Conscious Consumer & Online Transparency

Last week Adaptive Marketing attended the 2016 Canadian Internet Marketing Conference. At the conference a number of great topics were brought up, one that really resonated was the issues with online Transparency. Online transparency is a powerful concept, as well as a potential threat or opportunity that is critical to the success of businesses and or brand.

It’s not surprising that we trust recommendations from people that we know as we expect them to be transparent. Since the study was done in 2013 there actually was a negative trend in the results, which likely signifies that people are doing more research and are more aware. Today retailers know your age, gender, marital status, and income as soon as you land on their site. Naturally, they gather this data to show you products that they want you to buy.

But what do you know about the retailers that are advertising to you and does that matter?

According to a recent Nielson Study, people were asked to answer the following question: Who do we trust in Advertising?

  • The top result was ‘Recommendations from people I know’ (83% down from 84% in 2013)
  • ‘Branded websites’ came in at 70% (up from 69% in 2013)
  • ‘Consumer opinions posted online’ came in at 66% (down from 68% in 2013)

Transparency is quickly becoming one of the most powerful catalysts to help motivate (or not motivate) the conscious consumer. It cuts through the marketing spin and the multi-billion dollar effort to market to your preferences and behaviours. It puts the power directly in the hands of consumers, which is exactly where it should be.

The Risks Of Not Being Transparent

One very public example of not being transparent was in 2013 when the BlackFish documentary explored the fatal consequences of keeping orcas in captivity. The documentary calls up former trainers of the killer whale Tilikum and scientists to give their expertise. In the documentary BlackFish states orcas swim over 100 miles a day, but at the theme park are virtually motionless, forced to entertain guests and are contained in the tanks that are the human equivalent of a bathtub.

How SeaWorld responded: 

BlackFish says that SeaWorld continues to collect whales from the wild to this day, that Tilikum himself was collected by SeaWorld and the collections done four decades ago were illegal. None of this is true.

The movie relies on former SeaWorld employees, most of whom have little experience with killer whales, and others who haven’t worked at SeaWorld in nearly 20 years.

The movie relies on animal rights activists masquerading as scientists.

SeaWorld also followed this up by doing an #AskSeaWorld hashtag campaign that quickly backfired on Twitter as Animal rights groups took over the hashtag.

SeaWorld Blackfish


The Results:

SeaWorld’s public image was tarnished by the documentary that brought to light less-than-ideal habitats for its famous Orca whales. The Orlando-based company has defended its Orca environments, but admitted that the film and related “adverse publicity” harmed its brands, reputation and results.

  • Figures show attendance to the company’s 11 parks between October and December 2014 fell 2.2 percent to 4.4 million from 4.5 million in the same period a year ago.
  • Attendance fell 4.3 percent during the entire year to 22.4 million from 23.4 million in 2013.
  • During the fourth quarter of 2014, the company reported a loss of $25.4 million, or 29 cents per share. That compares with a loss of $13 million, or 14 cents per share, in the same period a year before.
  • It laid out plans to cut costs in an effort to make up for slowing sales. Revenue fell 1.5% to $405.2 million last quarter, while earnings per share came in at 43 cents, short of expectations.

Being Transparent & Owning Up

Sometimes the ultimate transparency is admitting when we’ve made a mistake. And by keeping these results in mind, we can use Digital Transparency as an effective marketing initiate that can yield points with the conscious consumer and result in increased sales. One big brand that was able to do this was Mcdonald’s Canada that stepped up to promote their business transparency.

With the “Our Food. Your Questions.” digital platform, consumers were encouraged to ask their toughest questions. In exchange, McDonald’s promised to step up and provide clear and concise answers.

It was a courageous and savvy move that recognizes the importance of creating a kinship with consumers, says Alex Sévigny, director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program.

“Trust and reputation are becoming a fundamental part of building a brand and maintaining a brand community. The McDonald’s campaign is great in that respect. It’s absolutely brave because it required them to give the public a backstage pass to how things work.”

It was the open, honest kind of approach that can silence the harshest of critics, turn a fence-sitter into a fan or, if it backfires, risk alienating consumers unsatisfied with the answers. For McDonald’s Canada, fielding inquiries from the Canadian public through its “Our Food. Your Questions.” digital platform was a way of staying relevant in a day and age where business practices are constantly called into question for all brands in all categories. – Kristin Laird, Marketing magazine

The Benefits Of Owning-up

For example if a customer of Jimmy’s Fish & Chips (Hypothetical Company) turned to Facebook to complain about their order. Jimmy’s Fish & Chips approach should be similar to a customer service issue, and whether right or wrong they should try their best to make it right. The result would be an increase in trust from Jimmy’s Fish & Chips, transparency is difficult to measure in numbers but in this case likely saved a customer and added a few more as a result. Most of the time people that complain just want to be HEARD, so even by acknowledging them you will be making a difference.

Quick tips

Our trust increases when there is full transparency. If we know a brand’s motivations are sincere, it engenders a greater sense of trust and connection to that brand. Even one of the biggest brands in the world understands this is more important than short term sales.  When considering the issue of transparency in relation to your Brand, it is worth pausing and taking a breath, and then wisely choosing to follow a few simple steps, here are a couple from us:

  • BE HONEST – the truth will come out when thousands of people have the ability to call you on your motivations and facts,
  • DON’T use a tragedy to further your online engagement – be sincere and transparent if you want to show your sympathy on behalf of your brand,
  • DON’T stick to your personal opinions, when there is a conflict of interest, it can ultimately hurt your brand image,
  • When you’ve made a mistake, JUST ADMIT IT, and don’t repeat the mistake. That’s a true sign of strength and transparency.

Author by Nick Bellamy

Entrepreneur and Owner of Adaptive Marketing. He provides new insight and strategies that will assist businesses to get the results that they want.

Adaptive Marketing