This post was originally featured on Forbes.
Challenger Brands Lead with Trust and Transparency in 2021
“We are now in a transparency race,” Barry Parkin, chief procurement and sustainability officer at Mars, said in a Triple Pundit piece in 2018. “If you don’t know what you’re buying, where it comes from and under what social, economic and environmental conditions it’s being produced, it’s almost guaranteed to lead to public scrutiny.” Three years later, and I’ve seen brands rewarded for entering that race.
Just consider Patagonia: The hiking brand demonstrates transparency by putting its supply chain in the public eye (particularly through its “footprint” page on its website). Similarly, social media management company Buffer makes its diversity numbers public and publishes the salaries of all employees with factors like local cost of living and prior experience. Eyewear brand Warby Parker is another example, as the company shares updates that hold its suppliers to defined standards.
Promoting transparency not only benefits the business but also prompts consumers to reexamine assumptions and question the ethics and morality of other brands they choose to invest in. What’s your brand doing to prove its transparency to consumers, and how are you entering the race?
For Challenger Brands looking to align their long- and short-term business goals with social good, I recommend taking note of the following steps:
Be prepared for consumers to ask tough questions
Consumers have a right to ask questions. Whether they’re asking about the truth behind your sustainability claims or how your team truly deals with inclusivity behind closed doors, if you’re not making moves to be transparent and authentic, people may investigate publicly. With social media at their disposal and a number of brands launching into the market with a mission to showcase transparency surrounding their supply chains, diversity, inclusivity, strategy and business standards, consumers can easily call brands out that are lagging behind.
Make transparency part of your DNA, rather than a rushed afterthought
Starting a brand with transparency as part of its DNA is typically easier than reverse-engineering it. Because of their size, complex supply chains and the high risk that can come with implementing change, it’s harder for industry leaders and incumbents to instigate transparency. In the fashion industry alone, the Fashion Transparency Index 2020 found that, of 250 brands and retailers, the overall average transparency score was below 25% — a clear signal that more needs to be done.
As you build your brand, thoughtfully consider all the dimensions that matter to your business, your customers, your teams and the world. Whether it’s the labor practice and representation of your workforce or the manufacturing process of your materials, assess where you are and set goals to integrate them into your brand’s DNA.
Use data to your advantage
For any brand, it’s hard to be transparent when you don’t have an assessment of your current state nor the data to validate your progress. Whether it’s backing up your processes with substantial internal research or opening up your supply chain via the blockchain, validated data is essential. Look at ways you can harness data sourced internally, in partnership with industry associations, non-governmental organizations or other brands to validate the authenticity of your claims.
The Time to Start is Now
Since Parkin shared his thoughts on the race for transparency, the stakes have only increased. For example, in the past year, I’ve seen Canada’s eight largest pension funds call for better ESG standards so investors can better understand the societal impact of the money they’re investing, and brands can better deliver on their transparency promises. It came on the back of two of the world’s largest money managers receiving backlash for showing “little favor” for climate and social resolutions. I’ve also seen the emergence of companies that publish data sets that have been independently assembled to satisfy the demand for transparency.
No matter your sector, transparency is the new normal. Make a commitment to being clear about your intent, your methodology and your milestones, and consider what you can do to enter the race today.