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The history of business has always moved and evolved from one generation to another. Values change, focus changes, and the way of doing things continues to adapt to the new consumer.

One of the biggest changes that has happened over the last decade or two has been the emphasis on transparency. The general public is no longer satisfied with simply buying products. They want to know what’s happening behind the scenes.

This is why there has been an increase in transparency reports and “drawing back the curtains” of how a business operates. Even huge corporations are not immune from this, and many have found the need to change business practices because their customers are demanding they be held accountable.

Regardless of the size of your brand, it’s important to understand what your audience values, and as the growing trend of transparency becomes more and more relevant, it’s time to think about what transparency looks like for your brand.

In today’s show, we’ll be talking about what brand transparency means, some practical ways to be transparent, and some great (and not so great) examples of brands doing transparency right.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Brand transparency isn’t that different from transparency as a person.
  • Transparency is giving people outside of your brand a glimpse of what makes up your business.
  • Know the values of your audience and base your level of transparency on that.
  • When there is no transparency, companies are not held accountable for their actions.
  • Transparency matters because lack of transparency costs lives.
  • The purpose of transparency is to build trust.
  • The purpose of authenticity is to cultivate and nurture the trust that transparency builds.
  • When we’re held accountable, we improve the lives of human beings and we improve our world.
  • Transparency validates your authenticity.
Show Notes
  • 03:02 Cory: As a content creator in audio, written words, and on video, personally, what’s interesting about online transparency is that you can really put any version of yourself out there that you want. On Instagram, you can post the best photos of your vacation. “Aw, it’s so beautiful here. It’s amazing. Look at this great food I had,” when the entire time it was raining, you were fighting with people, and you got robbed or something.
  • 03:42 You can put whatever face on it that you want to, because the internet acts as a barrier between you and the viewer. You can use that as a mask in any way that you want. We’re talking about, “Ah, it’s one of those days,” and since we’re talking about transparency, I had one of those days today, Kyle.
  • 04:05 This morning, my wife Kristiana was working, so I was watching the girls, our two daughters, Rylynn and Melody, and they were trouble today. They were whiny. There were tears from everyone. It was tough. I say that to set up this show.
  • Brand transparency isn’t that different from transparency as a person—you just have to decide what it looks like for you and your brand.

  • 04:53 We’ll get into that more. Kyle made me think about that when he talked about it being “one of those days,” because I’m having one of those days.

Defining Transparency & Authenticity

  • 05:02 Kyle: It’s a hard balance, like you mentioned. As someone who creates and posts content, there are all these different factors. The number one struggle for me, most of the time, is that I don’t want to waste my audience’s time. If I start talking about the bad things that happened throughout my day, mention that something went wrong, or include the mistakes in my video or my audio, sometimes it feels like I’m wasting their time.
  • 05:35 I feel like I’m not giving them the best final product that I can. There’s another side of it, too. Keeping those things in allows people to see that you’re human, that your brand isn’t perfect, and that you don’t always record perfect videos the first time. You don’t always record the best audio the first time around. There’s room for that. That’s the biggest struggle I typically run into. How can you be transparent and also not waste people’s time?
  • 06:16 Cory: Right. The answer to that question begins with talking about what transparency actually is and what the purpose of transparency is. I find that the words “transparency” and “authenticity” are used very close together. When you do a Google search, you’re listening to a podcast, or you go on a blog, they’re talking about it and they say, “Transparency and authenticity!” You’re like, “Well, are those the same thing?”
  • 06:49 They’re close, but they’re a little bit different. I think it would be great if we defined what transparency and authenticity are, what the purposes are, and then we’ll get into some examples and some practical ways your brand can be transparent in this day and age.
  • Transparency is allowing people on the outside of your brand to get a glimpse of what makes up your business, company, or organization.

  • 07:29 It’s inviting people in and saying, “We have nothing to hide. You can trust us.” As we talk about transparency going forward, if you’re a visual person like I am, it’s the idea of pulling back the curtain to a certain degree. It doesn’t have to be the entire curtain, but to a certain degree you’re allowing people to see what makes your brand and your business tick. What’s on the inside? What produces what we actually see in public?
  • 08:07 Kyle: Sometimes, as a company, that can be difficult. You want to pull back the curtain and show people what’s happening, but it’s sort of ingrained in us to want to have mystery. None of us really say that we want to have mystery. We want to know these answers, but there’s also this sense of mystery that’s really captivating. We see this a lot with TV shows, movies, or other kinds of entertainment.
  • 08:46 There’s this thing, and we’re not sure what’s going to happen the next time we watch it, in the next movie, or ten minutes from now. There’s something captivating about that. A brand that comes to mind with that is Apple. For years, they’re been very secretive about the products they’re coming out with. That mystery has built up a whole lot of fans of the brand, because they aren’t completely transparent.
  • 09:16 They don’t say, “Here’s our road map for the next ten years. Here are the products we’re going to release.” There is some mystery and intrigue there. I know that, today, we’re not necessarily only talking about that aspect, but I think it’s important to understand not pulling the curtain back completely. You need to understand where you should pull it back and where you should keep the curtain there to keep some mystery.
  • You shouldn’t necessarily open your entire brand up, because people can get bored if they know what to expect next.

  • 09:53 In some cases, that might be good. In some cases, that might be exactly what that target customer needs. In some cases, the need is mystery. On the other side, that person might need to know all of the little details—either because of their investment of money, their beliefs, or their values. Things like that. It comes back to knowing what the values of your audience are and basing your level of transparency on that.

The Purpose of Transparency & Authenticity

  • 10:39 Cory: The purpose of transparency is to build trust. At it’s very core, that’s its purpose. If we’re getting simple and getting all the jargon out of the way, that’s what we’re doing. It’s the same thing in a relationship with a person. The more you know about that person, the more you trust or distrust that person. Depending on what you find out, what is shared, and so on and so forth, and how it’s found out, that builds trust or distrust.
  • 11:16 That’s the purpose of transparency. If you’re trying to create and cultivate a relationship with your audience, you need trust. The purpose of transparency is to build trust. This brings up authenticity. Authenticity isn’t just letting people see how everything is going on and building that trust.
  • Authenticity is stating your values and following through with sticking to your values.

    The purpose of authenticity is to cultivate and nurture the trust that transparency builds.

  • 11:53 Transparency is building; authenticity is cultivating and nurturing the trust you’re building with your target audience or customer.
  • 12:04 Kyle: Ironically, I was thinking about this yesterday. Our show artwork kind of reflects this concept of pulling back the curtain. We have the heart, which kind of represents the brand and what it stands for, and you pull that back and you start seeing some of the gears inside. There’s still that mystery of, “What’s on the other side?” There’s that little sense of mystery, but you feel like you’re getting this inside look at something.
  • 12:39 I think that really speaks to what we’re talking about today of knowing when to do that and when not to do that—when it’s going to be frustrating for someone, when it’s going to waste someone’s time, and when it’s a really good thing to do.

Why Be Transparent?

  • 12:57 Cory: Why do you think it’s important to be transparent, other than building trust? I want to get your thoughts on this, Kyle. Most of our audience that listens to this show are primarily building businesses or trying to cultivate some kind of brand online. We have a couple of people who have written in that have restaurants or brick-and-mortar stores, but the majority of our audience is building their brand online and connecting with their audience online. Why is it important, in building that up in 2017, to consider transparency and consider ways that they can be transparent?
  • 13:50 Kyle: For one thing, transparency validates your authenticity. Those work hand in hand. If you say one thing and you don’t actually do that in reality, that will catch up with you. If your brand is very transparent, you can’t hide that. It can’t become something that suddenly everyone finds out about later and it’s this really big deal.
  • 14:21 They see instantly. No one is taken advantage of. You can’t say, “I want to help you build your business. My business makes $400,000 a year,” and you have your analytics public and they see that you make $20 a year… You can’t hide from that. That’s a big thing now, because there have been so many companies that, over the years, we’ve found out that they’ve manipulated how they’ve manufactured things, where they source their products from, or how they treat their partners or their actual employees.
  • 15:02 It stays hidden, it’s not transparent, and there isn’t a window into their business. That has been very harmful, not only to the brand who does those things, but also to those people who have invested their time and money into that brand and feel very cheated by that brand suddenly not being what they said they were or doing what they said they would do. This idea of transparency starts to bridge that gap of, “They’re not hiding things.” I’m not naive. There are things that could still be hidden.
  • Truly being transparent bolsters your authenticity and lets people know what they’re getting into.

  • 16:01 It lets them know, “I’m not making $5 million a year and claiming that I’m in poverty, and I’m not claiming that I’m making $5 million a year and I’m actually in poverty.” You understand where the person is at and where the business is at. Not all transparency has to be financially related, but that’s a fairly universal thing. It could be where you source products from. If you say that something is made in the USA, for example, and that’s important to someone, but they find out you’re sourcing everything from China, that’s not good.
  • 16:42 Have that be transparent. Show the factories things are being made in. Talk about everyone that works there, where it’s at, and why you started working with them. A great example of this is our friend Jeff’s brand, Ugmonk. He did this entire video—he has some leather goods in his store—of going to the manufacturer of his leather goods in the US, showing the factory, talking to them, and showing how they’re making his products.
  • 17:16 It was a complete open window to how things are made in his company. That’s reassuring. Now I know that he’s not trying to sell me this, claiming it’s handmade and it’s not. I see the whole process. It helps. We’ve had the wool over our eyes too many times, and I truly believe that’s why transparency is so important now.
  • 17:44 Cory: I totally agree. That term you used, “Having the wool over our eyes,” is key to why transparency matters, especially in our day and age. It’s because people are done. I was doing some research, and with the amount of studies that ask people about their values, our generation and on really deeply values transparency.
  • Not only do younger generations value transparency, but they value the idea of authenticity.

  • 18:31 When you say you’re going to do something, you do it. If you claim something, like, “This is going to improve your life in a certain way,” and you don’t follow through, that’s going to be death for your company. Culturally speaking, this can look very different. Sarah had asked in the chat earlier if transparency matters more in certain cultures than others, and I would say, absolutely.
  • 18:57 It’s totally a cultural thing, for sure. One thing that I will say is that the further we get into the widespread information age, the more information is available to people’s eyes at a touch of a finger. The more you can know about a company, the more vital it is for that company to do the things they say they’re going to do and not try to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. I can literally go into Google and type in, “Does Starbucks use fair trade coffee beans?”
  • 19:38 I can go and read all about that. “Milka chocolate in Europe—who are they owned by? What’s the corporation? What’s their stance and what are their practices on farming, water use, or how they treat women, children, men, or workers in general?” You can find all these things. You could not have found that stuff as easily 20 years ago. It just wasn’t possible. Now, I can go on and figure out all the stuff.
  • 20:13 I can see, “Okay, well, you’re using American Apparel shirts, and I can look up all the things happening in American Apparel and their values,” and now that’s a reflection on the people sourcing those shirts. All of these things are coming together now in this age of increased knowledge, information, and accessibility, and it’s difficult to hide shifty, dodgy practices.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do and be honest about it.

  • 20:50 I’ve got some examples here. Everlane does this really well. I’ve talked about Everlane in the past. They have a huge emphasis on transparency, down to how much the product that you’re buying costs. If you’re buying a $50 shirt from Everlane, you can see infographics on their site of what the cost is for producing that shirt, what the markup is, and why. They have articles, journal entries, and full pages on their factories and how they’ve traveled to their factories.
  • 21:24 They have videos, pictures, information, and names of workers. They’re making sure that they’re being paid a fair wage and there’s no slave labor. All of this stuff is incredible. I absolutely love Everlane. I really support that brand, they’re fantastic. There are so many other companies that are jumping into this idea of transparency, some in a radical way, and others in a way that may not be as radical but still allows there to be a level of trust that’s more than you needed in the past.
  • 22:01 The realm of business over the centuries has changed so much. Maybe 100 years ago, it didn’t matter as much to the general public, but now it’s really important. Go take a look at Everlane.com, and there in the navigation, you can find all the information you want about all of the things. There’s a link there that says Factories, and you can click that and see where their factories are all around the world. It’s really fantastic.

Accountability Improves the World

  • 22:35 Kyle: Speaking of the culture thing, I think some of this transparency depends on your audience. Let’s say you’re a family clothing company. Maybe you’re a little bit transparent about what’s going on in your family life, because your focus is on kids apparel, adult apparel, and focusing on family specifically. Maybe you’re a little bit more transparent about that. If you were a clothing company for teens, they’re not going to be that interested in your family life.
  • 23:18 That’s not their focus. Maybe they’re interested in you being transparent about the types of organizations you support or what kind of money goes to charity—all those types of things. Those different topics are important to each audience. There’s this idea that being transparent is saying everything that happens, and sometimes that comes across wrong with audiences. It’s this confusion of, “Why do we care about that?” They’re trying to be transparent, but it’s not contextual. It doesn’t change anything for them, it just seems like something random you’re sharing.
  • 24:01 Cory: I’m about to rant on this, because this is really important. Sarah asked, “Do you think people really care?” We’re talking about all of this transparency stuff and why it matters, and she says, “Do you think people really care? I feel like many people say they care, but behaviors don’t change. Like Monsanto does shady stuff, but people keep buying their products. We care here, but does the majority?”
  • 24:27 Eugene followed up with, “Attention spans are now eight seconds. I don’t think they care.” Let me ask this question. People say they care about security, but their practices show that they may not. Does that mean that we should not endorse better security? Additionally, the reason why transparency is so important and the reason why we need to care and help other people care is this:
  • When there is no transparency, companies are not held accountable for their actions.

  • 25:12 Walmart, any of these other big corporations, or even small businesses—small businesses can do this, too—they’re using sources that use inappropriate means to create their products, and that is creating a world problem. That is a human rights issue. I literally don’t care if somebody says, “I totally care, but I’m still going to buy at Walmart…” I want to help them care.
  • 25:44 Do we not care when factories explode overseas and 1,700 people die in a factory, when people are living in slavery around the world? In the last few years, you can look up how many disasters have happened in the fashion supply world in factories. People are in there, and you’re like, “Aw, I feel bad about it,” but that’s the problem.
  • Transparency matters because lack of transparency costs lives.

  • 26:17 I know I’m getting really extreme here, but I truly believe this. The reason why we need to push for this, why this needs to be out there and more companies need to get into the cycle of transparency, is because when we’re held accountable, we improve the lives of human beings and we improve our world. That’s just the truth. If there’s transparency, these companies aren’t going to be using these shady, dodgy ways of making money, because they want to keep making money.
  • 26:52 They want people to keep buying their products, so they’re going to improve. This has been proven. Companies who are held accountable for their actions and change stay in business. Companies who are not held accountable for their actions but are seen to have bad practices don’t do well anymore. People are caring more and more. Even if the vast majority doesn’t care, even if they say, “I totally care,” but their actions show that they don’t, it’s changing.
  • 27:19 The climate is changing. Over the next 10 to 20 years, everything about how business is now is going to be different because of the increased amount of information and knowledge and because the generations are changing. What people care about now and what they will care about in the next five, 10, 15, 20, 25 years is all going to change.
  • As generations change, the values of society are going to change.

  • 27:50 It’s really important. I don’t care if it feels like people don’t really care. It’s important. When it’s important, you need to do it. That’s the truth. If something is important, it’s something you value, and it affects humanity, we need to put a stake in the ground. We need to draw a line and say, “This is not okay anymore.” That’s my rant.
  • 28:27 Kyle: I don’t even necessarily think that people don’t care about these issues or that they brush them to the side. I think, in many cases, it’s awareness. That’s why our generation and others have decided to start changing, where we seem to care about these things more. We seem to care about them more, but I think it’s because we’re more connected with, “How do we find alternatives?” We’re not following the “having a job for 40 years” route anymore.
  • 29:10 We change jobs because we don’t agree with something happening, we feel like we could be in a better place, or we see better opportunities. It’s the same with businesses that aren’t transparent. If they’re not transparent, we can find another source for the things we’re looking for. There are other options out there. If you’re not aware of those options, it seems like that’s the only choice for you.
  • 29:38 It has become less of a game of, “I’m the only option and you have to come to me,” to, “I’m the only option because of your concerns here.” It’s different for different people. If you don’t eat meat and that’s an important thing to you, that animals aren’t slaughtered for food, you’re going to go towards companies that are transparent in saying, “We don’t practice any of that, we don’t include any of that with what we produce.” Other people may not care about that issue.
  • 30:18 There’s a division of what issues we care about. What someone cares about with one thing, someone else may not with another. I think it’s an interesting landscape we’re in now, where you can go online and figure out, like you said, “What do they actually do?” Then, during the same ten minutes you’re online, you can also find somewhere else that does that and agrees with your morals.

Practical Ways to Be Transparent

  • 30:49 Cory: Let’s get into some practical stuff. I want to go rapid fire on some ways your brand can be transparent and some other examples of brands doing that. One way you can be transparent is with financial records, like your taxes, salaries, revenue, and actual costs of products. I’m not saying that you have to do all of these things, but these are examples of things other companies have done.
  • 31:13 If you go to Buffer.com/salary, you can see how much you would make if you worked for Buffer under various conditions. It’s really interesting. They have a Transparent Salary policy, where at one point, they even had a spreadsheet of what they were making, which was fascinating. That’s interesting. You don’t have to do that, but that’s an interesting way of doing that.
  • 31:37 If you go to Baremetrics.com, you can hook up Baremetrics to your payment analytics. They’ll set up a page that shows what your monthly recurring revenue is, what your net revenue is, fees, and so on and so forth. It’s really interesting. I like that. There is a growing number of companies using this and sharing their page. For example, our friends over at ConvertKit have ConvertKit.baremetrics.com.
  • 32:15 You can see monthly recurring revenue, other revenue, annual run rate, user churn, lifetime value… It’s really interesting. They share that publicly. They want people to see into their business that way. I think that’s really cool.
  • 32:31 Kyle: It’s super awesome to go look at that.
  • 32:36 Cory: Other ways you can be transparent include material sourcing. Depending on what kind of business you have, you can share about whether you’re involved in fair trade, your products are organic, etc—whatever it is that makes up your products and matters to your audience. You can literally have a window into your premises, if you have a brick-and-mortar. I used to go to this coffee shop back in California called Joebella, and there was a window inside the coffee shop where you could watch them roast the beans.
  • 33:11 It seems kind of silly, but it actually illustrates what they’re about. We can talk and have conversations about how they do business, but it’s not this secret thing. It’s a move to show that they’re willing to display how they do things.
  • 33:29 Kyle: Krispy Kreme donuts. They have a window in all of their stores of the conveyer belt making donuts, and I don’t recommend it for anyone with a weakness for donuts.
  • 33:46 Cory: Are you really into Krispy Kreme?
  • 33:51 Kyle: No, honestly, I’m not into them specifically, but I don’t think anyone could see these warm, glazed donuts and not feel intrigued. It’s transparent!
  • 34:07 Cory: Krispy Kreme is the worst, though! Am I alone in that? The worst donut ever. I hate it. What are some other ways that brands can be practically transparent?
  • Teach everything you know and share things.

  • 34:32 Kyle: We talk about that a lot within the seanwes Community, but that’s a form of transparency—talking about how you do business, the ways you do it, and allowing others to learn from that even before they pay for a course or any material from you. You’re willing to share and be transparent about that. That gives a lot of confidence to what you may purchase in the future and how you may interact with the company in the future.
  • 35:05 If you’re coming to them for learning purposes and you see a video, you didn’t learn anything from that, and it’s not what you expected, you probably won’t invest deeper to buy a course from them or hire them as a client. There’s a lot of transparency in doing that. Some things I listed under that include sharing your process, helping others reach their goal, being open about current limitations, and reviewing where you’ve been and where you’re going publicly.
  • 35:41 That’s really important. I did that yesterday, actually, on a lifestream on Instagram. I had a little Q&A about where things are going this year, and I really opened up about some of my plans for this year and where I want to take things with my brand. That was great.
  • Another way to be transparent is to give actual customers an open mic.

  • 36:06 It’s increasingly disturbing to me to see these advertisements where it’s not scripted, but it’s still actors pretending to be customers. It seems like they stop them on the street and ask them questions, but it’s all staged. It’s all meant to happen, and that’s so dishonest. Obviously, they’re going to say great things. They’re being paid to be there. It’s not authentic, first of all. You’re acting like you’re giving a transparent window into your company, but you’re not.
  • 36:51 Actually giving customers an open mic is huge, because you can display customer feedback publicly and invite customers to join you in a discussion about the future. Those things hold you accountable. If they see that someone really didn’t like their experience with you, that’s on your public record, so to speak. You can’t hide from that anymore. I’ve seen cases where there was confusion or someone got mad, and that always happens.
  • 37:26 Maybe they’re like one of two people that left a bad review. The really great companies are the ones that come to those one and two star reviews and say, “We’re really sorry you had this experience. Let’s try to work on that.” They don’t just dismiss them as the one or two people who have had a bad experience, but they actually try to focus on those to improve them. That’s another great way to be transparent.
  • 37:57 That’s another great thing that, as we’re more and more connected with the internet and smartphones, we have more access now. Because we have more access, we can now look these things up, and transparency is right there.

Examples of Transparency

  • 38:30 Cory: I want to give a few more examples of transparency. Krochet Kids, I love what they’re doing. All of their products are made by hand, and they have a slogan called, “Know who made it,” so you can go see who made your product. Every product is hand-signed by the person who made it. I’m pretty sure they employ, specifically, women in developing countries who need a job. They’re able to get a job producing these kinds of high quality products.
  • 39:21 It’s really awesome. You can go see the full list. They call it Meet the Ladies, and you can see the women who are making these products. So good! They’ve got a gigantic list of beneficiaries, of people who are making the products and where your money is going. It’s great. Patagonia is a great example of this. They’re quite a vocal environmental advocate, which is great.
  • 39:48 GoldieBlox… I got turned onto these guys just recently. They make construction and engineering toys for girls, which is really great. I love the way they address that. They’re straight up about some of their research and the purposes behind what they do. It’s great. Those are some of the examples that came to my mind of transparency. There are some good things out there. There’s a lot of good conversation happening in the Community.
  • 40:30 It’s interesting. They’re talking about transparency and how a CEO’s decisions, beliefs, or values changes how they interact with that brand. If they are for or against a certain political or human rights issue or whatever, it causes people to look at the brand that they represent differently. It’s just the truth. There are a lot of great resources out there and a lot of ways you can build trust with your audience through transparency. Cultivate it and nurture it with authenticity.
  • 41:11 Kyle: This is a good conversation to have. If you’re building a brand on your own right now, you’ll have to have this conversation with someone close to you that you talk with. If you own a business that has employees, talk about this. Where should we and can we be transparent, and how can we start implementing this more?
  • 41:34 It’s important. It takes those discussions to really figure out what’s specifically right for your brand. Hopefully, we’ve given a lot of insights into how you could start doing that.