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Running a business is a constant game of weighing pros and cons, an ongoing calculation of opportunity cost, because you simply cannot be all things to all people all the time. Sacrifices have to be made. A business may need to sacrifice focusing on one target audience for another, or sacrifice dedicating attention and resources to one product in exchange for another, or sacrifice expansion into new markets in favor of building and securing already extant product lines. There are, in truth, a myriad of things that may need to be sacrificed in favor of something more cost effective, or more innovative, or more reliable, or simply better. But transparency, operating from a position of clarity and authenticity, must always be there.

There is no trust without transparency

Ongoing relationships are built on trust, and a lack of transparency is one of the fastest ways to shake the trust of your customers. If your customers feel that they have to be on the lookout for ulterior motives or a bait and switch or some kind of obfuscation in your marketing when dealing with you, it suddenly becomes exceedingly easy for competitors to lure them away. If they aren’t sure that they can trust you, all that’s really left for a competitor to beat is pricing or service specs, and those are the easy things. Chances are that there are other companies, potentially lots of them, that can and do offer your product or service. Your customers will stay with you because they can trust you, and they can trust your organization because you honor commitments and are transparent and forthright.

Consumers are too well-informed to not catch on to smoke and mirrors

What is essentially all the information that makes up the sum of human knowledge is available, indexed and cross-referenced and searchable, on the internet. New information can be added through news sites and public records nearly instantaneously. Whether it’s a vague claim about the specifications or potential benefits of a product, or or misdirecting with a vague answer or simply not responding to rumors about the health of the company, or not directly addressing consumer complaints or other issues, the internet is so incredibly likely to kill your attempt at using smoke and mirrors that I continually wonder why some companies still try. Customers can look up scientific research to see whether a claim really holds water, they can check Better Business Bureau and local chamber of commerce or business association records for complaints, they can read other people’s reviews on Yelp, they can check for news stories from all over the world about any aspect of your company — if the information exists, it can be found and shared. Respond honestly and transparently to questions or concerns or reviews, whether positive or negative, and own that information rather than waiting for it to inevitably resurface.

Changes require transparency

The odds that a business may need to go through some form of rebranding, expanding, merging, or some other large scale change in the course of its existence are, understandably, very high. The market changes over time, and changes in products or services, mergers, or acquisitions are necessary to grow a business and keep it viable. For customers who have come to rely on you, transparency through this process is critical to maintaining the trust and positive image your brand has built. If you’ve been transparent and authentic enough to gain the trust of your customers, that transparency must continue through any large changes, and if you haven’t gained that trust, no amount of rebranding without the necessary transparency and authenticity will win customers over long term.

Transparency doesn’t mean turning over the proverbial keys to the information car to whoever wants them, and it doesn’t mean giving up a competitive advantage by sharing every single detail of every business dealing, but it means authenticity and clarity and continuing to give customers reasons to trust you, even in a world that discourages it. In every dealing, think about whether there is information that could someday, somehow come out that would make you seriously nervous, uncomfortable, or embarrassed to have said or done what you are about to say or do. If you can answer no, you are in the clear, pun entirely intended. Thanks for reading, as ever.