Why brand transparency is the shark lurking in the waters around Cannes

Brand transparency is the movement that all businesses need to pay attention to now – and get ahead of if they can.

I love Cannes Lions. I love the ambition of the work on show, the creativity and the awards for amazing effort that is so well earned. But while all eyes are on the frivolity and the ceremony of the great (virtual) event, brands need to be looking over their shoulder at the sparkling waters, because, like a shark, there’s a big issue lurking and if they don’t get ahead of it, the awards will not be as forthcoming. 

Consumers are more aware today of their data rights, how data is used and what transparency really means. This has been in the post since before GDPR, of course, but since that arrived, Google has changed its cookie policy and at the recent Apple Developers conference, privacy of digital tools for consumers was a main theme with the introduction of Relay. 

Beyond this, digital transformation accelerated as the pandemic meant that more of us were shopping and using services online. But as more people are online that means more people are getting to know what transparency really means. 

Winners at Cannes this year show signs of understanding that transparency is key to better business. At one end of the scale we have Beco (pictured) sending a clear message about brands being fully transparent in ambition and intent – this means that smaller brands in a crowded market can punch way above their weight. 

Dove, of course, is at the other end of the scale. As the brand continues its journey to move towards being a “brand of service” in approach and ambition, it also recognises that it needs to be more than skin deep to ensure that the trust it has gained continues post purchase. This is even more important as the internet starts to shift its balance towards a world demanding trust at all stages of consumer relationships.

Beyond purpose

Brand transparency is the movement that all businesses need to pay attention to now and get ahead of if they can. It comes from inside a business, so some introspection is required, but don’t wait until some tech giant points out that you’re selling data, look at yourself now and see what aligns with what people are asking and what needs to change.

We can already see brands that are gaining huge success by listening to consumer needs, heeding what audiences are learning and providing services and products in step. Apple is working to place privacy by design at the forefront of its work and uses this as a great emotional connector to the brand. 

Essentially, this turns transparency into emotional value with consumers, something that clearly shows up in the promo video “A day in the life of your data”, which helped people understand how their private information travels through the “app-mosphere” to vendors and other websites. When people feel informed, they feel more confident about their choices. 

Slack also puts transparency at the top of its goals for better customer experience strategies but although tech companies appear to be leading the charge, other brands are winning by making sure that openness is deeply embedded in their ideals. The Guardian newspaper has made this a priority, while Asos is also working on an increasingly honest relationship with customers around everything from supply chain to consumer engagement. 

The next step is brand transformation. Digital transformation was hot through lockdowns, you gotta be where people can find you online and you better make your online show look good. But, so far, this has been transformation for shareholders and profit – not for people and planet. It needs to be a part of brand transparency and, if it is, customers can feel good about the fact that not only can they reach a brand, but also know a brand they agree with; they can feel good that their data is not turning a profit for a business they are not invested in. 

Brands need to respect the personal values and interests of consumers now. If you ignore that, it doesn’t take much for a customer to share online that you’re not one for human values. Somewhere along the road to business transformation brands forgot to be more aware and looking ahead, so, naturally, technology and platforms stepped in to seize this lost ground. 

In a nutshell: 

Think like a human

Business planning is all well and good but remember who’s buying. Being human needs to go right to the heart of your business. Defining yourself through content marketing and ad campaigns is the wrong move – that should be part of the interaction after you have gained clarity. You can say you're human in an ad but can you prove you act human in commerce or retail experiences?

Brand transparency

Sharing purpose is great, but sharing data, not so much. So be clear about what you’re doing and if you’re changing – your customers will appreciate it. This is a long-term activity. The more frequently you show your openness, honesty and authenticity, the more customers will come to think of you as a brand they can trust. 

Brand transformation

Go beyond transformation for profit and power. You’ll find both if you look hard at yourself and dig out those human values at the heart of your brand. Viewing everything with an end-to-end brand lens is so critical here. Customers need to feel emotionally invested. They need to know that your brand story is more than just window dressing and that it reflects your brand's values front and centre at every interaction from physical to digital. Every micro-detail moves you collectively forward by being trusted.

It’s not an easy task, of course. But if brands can make a start on this level of evolution, they can forget about that shark in the waters, look forward to awards and maybe even go swimming. 

Wayne Deakin is the EMEA executive creative director at Huge

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