4 Reasons Transparency Is the Content Marketer’s Greatest Competitive Advantage

Since the Enron scandal turned the corporate world upside down, the word “transparent” has become a symbol of the trustworthy, credible, and socially responsible brand. And, for many companies, it has become a competitive advantage. Still, some companies have a difficult time with transparency. They argue that too much communication can be just as dangerous as not enough communication. After all, as a content marketer or thought leader, can you really admit that your prices are a little lower than the competition because your products may not be of the same quality? How about how your company uses big data? And, what about those hard-to-answer product or service-pricing questions to which the only remotely brief and succinct answer is “it depends”? In this post, I will argue that transparency and a willingness to tackle the difficult questions for your audience can be your most powerful competitive edge when it comes to attracting readers to your long-form content marketing campaign.

McDonald’s has perhaps been one of the most highlighted public case studies of the transparency debate. Viral Facebook posts, for example, depict the restaurant as the creator of non-food items that should not be ingested by any living organism. In one such post, for example, McDonald’s is accused of using plastic products as sandwich ingredients. And, many unsuspecting consumers pass the grossly inaccurate information along with the loving intention of warning their friends and family of potential danger to their health.

So, what should McDonald’s have done to remedy this unsightly word-of-mouth campaign that was clearly out of its control? Should it have kept silent out of fear of worsening the damage or should it have opened up its kitchens, processes, and supply chains to consumer scrutiny? McDonald’s has opted to become transparent, creating its “Our Food. Your Questions” content marketing campaign that depicts the brand as an open book where consumers can ask any and all questions and expect to receive an honest and accurate answer. So, why did McDonald’s choose to be transparent? And, should you do the same regarding your company’s hard-to-answer or taboo questions? I would argue that there are four powerful reasons you should be considering total transparency with your audiences.

  1. Take control of your brand image.

It is safe to say that the content marketing environment of today is drastically different from what it was even a decade ago. Today, consumers have at their fingertips a plethora of information on every company, product, service, and industry. Not only can they access information from the very source it originated, but, as McDonald’s quickly discovered, they have access to millions of third-party opinion blogs and social media pages, many of which include little accurate information. Instead of leaving your brand image to the whim of rumors, consider dispelling those rumors by not allowing them to begin. Rumors are the product of limited communication and heightened subject interest. With regard to McDonald’s Canada, consumers were very interested in what they were putting in their bodies but were not transparently given the information they sought. So, they began to speculate and, ultimately, make up the information themselves.

The result has been a brand reputation nightmare for McDonald’s–one that could have been avoided if consumers were simply given the answers before rumors created a detrimentally viral marketing campaign for the company. In its transparent campaign, however, McDonald’s Canada is taking control of its brand image. As a result of its transparency-centered content marketing campaign, it successfully offers answers to 350–450 consumer questions a day on Twitter and Facebook, answers that would likely have been provided with inaccurate and damaging third-party information if McDonald’s Canada had not made itself available to answer consumer questions before they hit the rumor mill.

  1. Create a brand image of credibility.

In his book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, Stephen M.R. Covey explains that integrity, or honesty, is one of the four components of credibility. With integrity, even a used car salesman can become a trusted consultant in his field. Integrity involves openly demonstrating that what you say about your brand is what is really happening behind the scenes. CarMax accomplished this by certifying its vehicles based on its 125+ point inspection, disallowing price haggling, and guaranteeing every purchase with a five-day, money-back guarantee. In addition, all sales representatives are paid the same with fixed commissions, allowing customers to be sure no hidden agenda is driving a sales representative’s interests in selling a vehicle. Instead of shady and secretive pricing strategies and hidden agendas, CarMax made it easy for customers clearly to gain the information they needed by addressing on its website even taboo industry subjects such as commission pay scales and car histories.

Its content marketing walks its readers through the ways in which cars are selected for sale and its certifying process; that is, full disclosure regarding all of its sale vehicles. In addressing the questions consumers are asking, the company positions itself a consultant with its content instead of a push marketer. And, while other used car dealerships remained in the shadows with hidden agendas and only “as-needed” vehicle information, CarMax’s integrity-driven and transparent content marketing campaign became its competitive advantage as consumers flocked to a brand they could trust.

  1. Transparency demonstrates expertise, leading to trusting customer relationships.

In his article, “The Power of Transparent Marketing to Rock Your Business in 2012 and Beyond,” Marcus Sheridan relates his story. He writes that in 2008, his company was on the brink of bankruptcy. But, he succeeded in pulling his company up by its bootstraps with one simply competitive edge that he employed in his content marketing campaign:

Address every question we’ve ever heard from our customers.

Now, this may sound like a simple and common approach that could not possibly equal a compelling competitive edge. Surely, other companies had embraced the idea of meeting their customers’ needs in this way. But, Sharidan found that this was not the case. In addition, he found that, with this new commitment to transparency, he was able to demonstrate his expertise, creating a brand image of expert service offerings that outshone his competitors.

For example, in its article, “How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost,” the company addressed the taboo subject of product pricing in an industry known for sometimes excessive-appearing purchase and installation costs. It would appear this high-cost admission would turn away customers. However, the opposite happened. Potential customers easily found the brand as its SEO ratings skyrocketed. After all, this is what customers wanted to know and, therefore, for what they most searched. And, in creating a transparent brand image in an industry where beating around the bush was common practice, the brand came to be respected and trusted above its competitors. It dared to tell the truth. Suffice to say, its customers and target audience appreciated the gesture: this blog post alone received 124,000 page views and 1,529 inbound links.

  1. Through transparency, you show you care.

Genuineness tells your readers that you would rather help them make the best decision for them than direct them to purchase a product from you. CarMax has provided an influential sales-model in its industry because, as it has become an open book of information for its customers, it has shown that, though the used car industry is notorious for self-serving and often shady sales tactics, the company cares too much about its customer’s interests to engage in such behavior. In its content marketing campaign, the company explains how its sales representatives are paid and exactly the types of damage that do and do not pass its inspection process before being vehicles are allowed on the sale’s floor. Though not typically discussed in the used car industry, in doing so, CarMax helps its audience come to the conclusion that the company cares more about meeting their needs than making a profit.

Put simply, its content marketing campaign serves to tell customers that the company works with each customer as a team to find and meet consumer needs, thereby courting customers away from competitors who may only have demonstrated a platform of self-centered motives through marketing campaigns that further push consumers to approach their brands with suspicion.

I’d love to know: what is hindering you from being transparent with your readers?