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Archive for April, 2009

Transparency is all the rage in business and government these days. Which seems funny (as in headshaking versus LOL) to me because the opposite is opacity and deception. What Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Marketing in his or her right mind would advocate to a board of directors a strategy of treating customers like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and bury them in crap).

 

Yet marketers allow their companies to do this actively and passively every day, and it really needs to stop.  Here are a few simple examples I’ve encountered recently:

  • Food packaging. Single cans of tuna at the grocery store shrank from 6.5 oz. to 5.0 oz. in the past year with no visible change in the can form factor or messaging on the can, yet the price stayed the same.  Besides the honesty in packaging argument, recipes often state quantities in terms of how they are packaged, not just weight/volume.
  • Cell phone plans.  Let’s use Verizon as an example because I tried to find this information recently.  What are the peak and off-peak Night and Weekends (i.e. free) calling hours in their plans?  The hours are not listed anywhere on their website or my bill.  They sell the benefit, but don’t publish the terms so customers are left to guess and run up overages.
  • Auto repair.  Why can’t I go to the websites of car dealerships and auto repair companies and look up prices for standardized repairs like oil changes, brake repair and transmission service?  These companies have set prices (and times required to make the repair) in the computer programs they use to run their businesses.

Transparency often requires the point of a spear.  It took a threat of an act of Congress – the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2004 – to force credit card companies to voluntarily make it easier for their customers to know and understand what they were being charged to use their cards.  This legislation has died in every Congressional session since and a 2009 version fights for its life even now.

 

We could debate all day which is the greater offender, business or government.  The Transparency in Government Act of 2008 is “a broad legislative effort intended to make the work of Congress and the executive branch more transparent by creating laws and regulations that would bring more information online and available to the public in a timely manner.”  Organizations like the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International exist to end corruption, promote accountability and establish the systems to improve access to information.

 

So what can marketers do to promote transparency, and build trust, in marketing:

  • Work in the Open – Expose the process of research, development, and planning to internal audiences, strategic partners, vendors, etc.  There is an art and a science to marketing, but it’s not magic.  Invite input, share assumptions, debate findings, publish conclusions.
  • Communicate With Constituents Like People – How many articles/blogs/tweets/etc. need to be published before professional communicators stop issuing news releases and creating website content that demonstrate they never speak with real people?  Use the “Mother” test (“if my Mother can understand it…”).  Speak in plain English.  State clear benefits.  Better yet, if a clear benefit can’t be stated in plain English, don’t.
  • Be the Conscience of Your Organization – Marketers bring the voice of the marketplace back to internal audiences while serving as brand champions back to the marketplace. This gives us a position from which to call “bullshit” on bad ideas, misleading messages, and inferior products and services.  The most influential marketing execs are not afraid to exercise that responsibility.
  • Demonstrate Accountability – Establish at the outset the criteria that will be used to measure success and the methods for that measurement.  Publish them to the organization.  Evaluate the results of marketing efforts and publish them as well.
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