If your restaurant brand is looking for fresh ways to appeal to today’s customers, there’s something new you might want to add to your menu. No, it’s not the latest plant-based or paleo-friendly dish. It’s something that customers are hungrier for than ever before: transparency.
In today’s market, consumers are getting tired of brands that portray themselves in one way while behaving in another. Instead, driven by a desire to support businesses that share their social and environmental values, contemporary consumers are increasingly embracing brands that are honest about their shortcomings and up front about the ways in which they are trying to improve.
According to a 2016 survey from Label Insight, nearly 40 percent of customers said they would switch from their preferred brand if another one offered more transparency. Additionally, 56 percent said they would very likely be loyal to a brand for life if it provided complete transparency.
The result of this significant shift in consumer preferences has been an unprecedented display of openness by some of the world’s biggest brands, both within the food industry and beyond it. Countless others are now working to emulate this behavior.
But be warned: transparency is only effective if it’s authentic. Customers are looking for meaningful openness, not smoke and mirrors. They will be quick to detect any efforts at transparency that fall short of the genuine article.
This means that embarking on a transparency campaign must involve a major shift in a company’s mindset and cultural mandate. In short, it is not something to be undertaken lightly. Some things that food brands should understand about transparency before setting off down this path include:
Scrutiny will increase.
One of the most important things to understand about transparency is that customers will not simply take you at your word. Contemporary consumers have been deceived by brands before (whether unintentionally or deliberately). As a result, they are ready to investigate, rather than simply accept, your brand’s assertion that you’re sourcing products from local farms or that you only use organic ingredients.
According to 2017 statistics from Cone Communications, 65 percent of Americans and 76 percent of Millennials say that they would do further research into a company’s position on a social or environmental issue to make sure it is authentic. You should therefore expect questions and increased scrutiny from your customers, and be prepared to openly support the claims you’re making.
Clarity is essential.
Previous studies from Cone Communications have emphasized that a key element of transparency is clarity. According to these studies, 70 percent of people find the messages that companies use when talking about their corporate social responsibility initiatives to be confusing.
It’s therefore best to focus on using plain, accessible language, and to avoid heavy use of technical terms or industry jargon. This is particularly important when it comes to messaging around ingredients, sources, or food preparation techniques. Statements that are factually accurate but confusing to an average audience won’t end up helping your brand.
It’s best to be proactive.
Transparency is often employed by brands as a form of damage control. It is even more effective when it is deployed before an issue develops. Companies can get ahead of the game by looking at the issues that are affecting other players in their industry. From there, they can craft a proactive response about what they’re already doing differently.
Using the right communication channels makes all the difference.
Sometimes, it’s important for your brand’s transparency to be front and center—if you’re recovering from a prolonged period of bad publicity, for example. But for the most part, your primary marketing communications are not the best place for messages about transparent business practices.
Instead, it’s more effective to focus on using public but not prominent communication channels to disclose your transparency efforts. This helps ensure that information is easily available without distracting from your main demand-driving messages.
Transparency must be internal as well as external.
Brands don’t always realize how important having a transparent internal culture is to a transparency campaign. After all, if your own employees don’t know how your business operates, how can they be expected to help inform or convince the public about your openness?
Address this issue by starting your transparency efforts from within. Work to make open, up-front dealings a key part of your company culture. You may also want to conduct an “honesty audit” among employees to determine areas where you could be more forthcoming.
Efforts must be measured.
To shape and guide your future efforts, it’s important to understand the effect that embracing transparency is having on your brand. This means that you’ll need to be ready to measure your efforts.
Work with surveys and conduct other research. This will enable you to gauge factors like consumer trust before and after the launch of your transparency campaign, compare sales numbers, and use social media channels to monitor how conversations about your brand are changing.