Take a stand

June 19, 2019

How consumers interact with the companies they do business with, and their expectations of us evolve and are a direct reflection of our culture and core beliefs as human beings. That could not be more evident than today. A study (it’s done every year) called the Edelman Earned Brand Study is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research on how consumers (B2B and B2C) view their relationship with the companies they consider doing business with. The message from the 2018 study is unequivocal. Consumers, across the globe, expect us to take a stand.

The research found that 64 percent of consumers around the world now buy on belief, a remarkable increase of 13 points since 2017. These “Belief-Driven Buyers” will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about.

One of the most startling statistics in the study is that 65% of consumers will not buy a brand because it stayed silent on an issue that the consumer believes the brand had an obligation to address.

This seismic shift over the past few years (it’s a trend we’ve been tracking since 2015) is a direct reflection on how we as a people are feeling about our society, our risks and our government. 53% believe that brands can do more to solve social ills than government and 54% believe it is easier to get a brand to address social problems than to get the government to act.

It’s not just about features and benefits anymore. Whether people are shopping for toothpaste or a truck, they’re factoring in a brand’s principles as much as its products. According to the research, silence will cost a company customers and revenue. Staying on the sidelines is no longer an option for brands.

This belief set is no longer fringe or limited to a particular age group. The Belief-Driven Buyers are the majority in every country surveyed, across all age groups and all income levels.

Buyers are just as likely to express the intent to purchase after viewing a communication focused on a brand’s stand as they are after seeing a product-focused communication. And if you’re trying to create raving fans, this is even more important. Any communication focused on a brand’s stand has an even more significant effect on a consumer’s intent to advocate for the brand than one focused on product features.

If you want social interaction and to get your best customers talking about you – take a stand. The study showed that people are much more likely to talk to their family or friends about you or post something online (a reply, like or share) if the topic is your stand on an issue, as opposed to your product’s features.

The Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick is a perfect example of this strategy that is playing out before our eyes. Think about how it dominated our social channels, the traditional media, and our water cooler conversations when it came out. Many consumers either vowed to never buy Nike products again or went out of their way to reward them for taking a stand by making a purchase.

In the polarized world we live in, I can see why a company’s first instinct is to remain neutral. Why provoke either side? Why risk losing half of your potential customers because you spoke out on an issue or societal issue? But if this study is to be believed, and it’s one of the most reputable studies in the space, you actually risk losing more consumers if you do nothing. Neutrality is an expensive choice.

How will your organization respond to this? I don’t think you can avoid answering this question much longer.


Delivering bad news

June 12, 2019

newsIt’s inevitable. We are going to screw up and have to share that with our customers, prospects and in many cases, with our employees or teammates.

That we will have to do it is a given. But there’s quite a bit of latitude in how we do it.

In the latest security breach at Facebook, 50 million users were exposed. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly alerted the public and explained in detail what happened, why it happened and how Facebook account holders should secure their accounts.

At first glance, it appears as if Facebook was very upfront and handled the breach well. But Zuckerberg’s statement was widely criticized because he did not express remorse or apologize for exposing people’s information. He did not say “I’m sorry.”

And that is one of the key elements of how to handle a mistake. First and foremost – apologize. Don’t infer or imply it. Say the words. But you have to mean them. An insincere or begrudging apology is worse than no apology at all.

Another critical element to a successful mea culpa is your brand. When you apologize with style or grace, it is so disarming that you can neutralize a hostile customer base. I can’t think of a more volatile customer group than people on an airplane. They’re almost bracing for a fight because they expect bad service, flight delays, or seatmate issues.

I was on a flight recently, and it was a few minutes past the time that they should have closed the cabin doors. The pilot came out and got on the PA system. Here’s what he said:

“Folks, you know when the captain comes out of the cockpit to talk to you, it’s not good news. We’re going to be delayed because there’s a malfunction in the oxygen system in the cockpit and if something happens mid-flight, believe me; you want a conscious pilot. I know I’m old, but I promise, I’m more alert when I have oxygen. This problem is only in the cockpit. There’s nothing wrong with the oxygen system in the main cabin.

I’m am very sorry about this, and if anyone wants to yell at me about the delay, please come on up. But, I want to warn you – I’ve been married for 30 years, so I’m pretty immune. But you can still yell if it makes you feel better. Once the maintenance crew gets here, it should take them about ten minutes to fix the problem, so I expect we’ll be in the air in thirty minutes. If I think it’s going to be longer than that, I will let you know.”

When he was done, people laughed and applauded. They applauded a flight delay announcement. That doesn’t happen very often. So, what did the pilot do to earn everyone’s grace?

  • He was sincere and genuinely apologized.
  • He explained the root problem and the risks of not fixing the problem.
  • He gave specific details as to the timeframe to fix the problem.
  • He promised to keep his customers informed if there was a change in the plan or timeline.
  • He was warm and approachable.
  • He used humor at an appropriate level.
  • He invited customers to express their discontent.

That’s a pretty impressive outcome for a speech with fewer than 175 words. And actually, that’s one of the other things he did well. He didn’t wrap his notification and apology in a lot of excuses, explanations or weasel words. He was straightforward and candid.

In this era of 24/7 news, spectator captured video, and everything showing up on the internet, learning the art of the graceful apology seems to be a skill that would behoove us all.


You’re not going crazy

June 5, 2019

crazyHave you ever been watching TV while simultaneously playing a game or surfing the web on your phone and suddenly it feels like everywhere you look there’s an ad for the same product? For example, you just heard (because you were looking down at your phone) a TV spot for the latest Toyota vehicle and then the next mobile ad that is served up on your phone or tablet is also for the same Toyota vehicle? You’re not going crazy. But you are living in 2019 – the era of automated content recognition.

Automatic content recognition (ACR) is an identification technology that allows our devices to recognize content being played on our TVs. In English what that means is that every TV spot and every TV show is chipped with a pixel that allows our smart TV and our smart devices to know exactly what we watched and when. This chip is sometimes called a watermark, and we can’t see or hear it as viewers. But our phones can.

This technology has been around since 2010 or so, but today, it’s pervasive and being used in some really interesting ways. As your smartphone “hears” what you are watching, it can serve up ads, opportunities to interact with content, provide extra content, lotteries, real-time polls or add the viewer to a database of people exposed to that particular ad or show.

This technology becomes increasingly valuable as our population continues to cut the cord from traditional TV suppliers like cable and satellite, making them more difficult to reach. Streaming services like Hulu or apps like HBO Go also have these watermarks and are collecting data so advertisers can better target their digital ads.

How can we as marketers take advantage of this technology?

Align screens: We know that in 2017, over 74% of adults watched TV while surfing the web or using an app on their phone. One valuable offering from this technology is that it allows advertisers to reinforce their message by pushing complimentary content to the viewer’s phone while they’re receiving the same message on their TV.

Conquesting: This is a technique of intercepting a buyer when they’re considering your competitor. You can now create a digital media buy that “cuts in” when someone in your target audience is watching TV and is served up one of your competitor’s ads. You can then, within seconds, serve up your ad to their phone or tablet.

Study the audience to build better strategy: With ACR, we can determine some key facts: 1) What shows and commercials are individuals watching on a second-by-second basis 2) What the viewer’s IP address is, which will then allow us to know their physical address and which websites and apps they visit 3) How the viewer is watching – is it Netflix on an AppleTV, CBS using a rooftop antenna, an on-demand show from Mediacom via a set-top box or a show they’re watching via DISH TV Now on their Xbox.

Retargeting: Mobile usage peaks during TV commercial breaks. As a result, brand recall from TV ads can suffer. With this technology, you can connect with your TV audience across all screens and reconnect your audience to your campaign. Advertisers can use the database created to target those individuals and serve up anything from postcards in their mailbox to video ads on their phone, based on their viewing habits and ad exposures.

ACR is a way to maximize your ad spend, dramatically increase your frequency and connect with your audience in a multi-media campaign that is very efficient from a budget point of view. It also gives you incredible insight into your competitor’s ad spend and placements and when done well, it can escalate product trials and purchases and knock your competitor off their game.


Should your brand take a stand?

May 29, 2019

brand take a standAlmost a year ago, Nike released a “just do it” ad campaign for their 30th anniversary featuring Colin Kaepernick, the football player at the center of the “taking a knee” controversy in the NFL. The reaction to the campaign was immediate and loud. The media exploded, social media couldn’t get enough of it, politicians tweeted about it, and investors reacted to this brand taking a stand.

The hashtag #Nikeboycott emerged and within 48 hours of the campaign’s launch, the stock prices fell as people voiced their objections to the campaign. People posted photos of them burning their Nike gear and swore they’d never buy another Nike product.

That’s what made the news but there are other facts that we should take into account.

  • Kaepernick has been a Nike sponsored athlete since 2011 and he’s been featured in many campaigns for Nike football and training gear
  • The campaign also featured other athletes like Serena Williams, LeBron James, Lacey Baker, and Odell Beckham Jr.
  • The focus of the campaign is showing athletes overcoming obstacles
  • The initial drop in stock prices (there was a reactionary sell off the day the campaign came out) righted itself (It was $82.20/share the day before the campaign broke and dropped to $79.60 24 hours later. On Thursday, 9/13/18 it was at an all-time high of $83.90)
  • Nike added over 170,000 followers on Instagram in the weeks after the campaign launch
  • Online sales were up 27% the week after the campaign launched but have now gone back to a more “normal” level
  • In a December 2017 Harris poll, virtually no one had a negative opinion of Nike. The same poll, taken a few days after the campaign launched, in September 2018, showed that 17% of respondents viewed Nike in a negative light. However, 29% of men 18-29 said they were going to purchase more Nike products. 19% of respondents of all ages said they were more inclined to purchase even more Nike products in the future.

We have always advocated that brands need to stand for something. A brand with no point of view can’t really differentiate itself from its competitors. But does that mean a brand should take a stand on a controversial issue or topic?

A brand can’t exist in a vacuum. It must believe in something. It must stand for something. Every great brand has a set of core values that drives its decisions and determines how that brand will connect with its audience. According to Edelman’s 2018 Brand survey, “over 50 percent of consumers worldwide say that they will make belief-driven purchase decisions more than they did three years ago. They will buy your brand, switch from it, avoid it – and at the extreme – boycott it over your stance on a controversial or social issue. This is the new normal for belief-driven consumers.”

Today’s consumers, especially those under 50, believe that every brand is either part of the solution or part of the problem. 69% of Millennials are belief-driven buyers. 67% of Gen Z and 56% of Gen X also fall into that category.

Nike’s campaign is a great case study on the courage it takes to live by your brand beliefs. I’m sure there were sleepless nights before the campaign launched and during its first few days as the general marketplace expressed itself.

But to survive and thrive, they didn’t have much choice. Today’s consumers are demanding that brands stop hiding in the mushy middle and step into their beliefs. How will you respond to that expectation?



Don’t forget to check in

May 22, 2019

check inI am not a fan of the restaurant manager check-in trend that seems to be the rage these days. I like the concept – a manager who is genuinely concerned with their customer’s experience but the execution leaves me wanting.

I think my reaction is a negative one because it feels abrupt and insincere. There’s no context to the conversation, no relationship between the parties and honestly, I don’t think the manager actually cares if I’m having a good meal. It feels like they are checking a box on their To-Do list as opposed to genuinely asking about my dining experience.

Last week I was out with some clients in their hometown and the manager of the restaurant swung by our table. Instead of just diving into the “how are your meals” question, she asked if we’d attended the local music festival that had just ended and when we said that we hadn’t, she shared a few tidbits about the festival and then inquired about our meals. Even that little bit of conversation made her inquiry feel less contrived and I enjoyed the pride she took in telling us a little more about where their meats were sourced and how the food was prepared.

That’s the difference. Most managers don’t know their customers and the one or two sentence check-in feels rote. But when someone in an authority position actually invests a bit of themselves and some time into a check-in, they can be an effective marketing tool.

This is smart marketing for all of us, whether we work on the business-to-business side or serve retail customers. I’m all for more formal data gathering like satisfaction surveys but there’s something very personal and powerful about a simple check-in.

For this to be effective, it needs to be informal and personal. In today’s tech-driven world, this is a person to person connection and if you infuse technology into it, you’ll destroy the impact.

This is you picking up the phone or approaching your customer in the store or when you see them out and about. There are some other key elements that need to be present for this tactic to be effective.

You can’t be a stranger: The reason the drive by restaurant check-ins feel insincere is because they are impersonal and have no context. You want to be able to connect first and then ask for their feedback.

The more specific the better: Don’t use jargon or generic terms like satisfaction. Ask how your product is solving a particular issue or if they prefer what they chose this time to what they usually buy. When you are specific, they will be in return and you’ll learn a lot more.

Offer an enhancement or secret: During your check-in, be ready with some tip or trick that will make them enjoy what they’ve bought from you even more. Think of it as a superuser hack that most people might not know. Your goal is to make them feel like an insider. A residual benefit of this technique is that when someone mentions your business, they’re going to talk about the secret. They’ll love that they can look like they’re in the know.

Don’t combine purposes: This is not a check in AND a sales call. The minute you try to sell something, it completely negates any goodwill you created by checking in. If you want them to feel like you actually care about their experience and opinion, stay focused there.

This marketing technique costs you nothing but a little bit of time. But it will give you incredible insight into your client’s experience, spotlight areas of weakness or missed opportunities and, when done well, increase your customer loyalty and satisfaction levels.

Not bad for free!


The upside to a recession

May 15, 2019

recessionWhen we talk about a recession, we don’t usually tell happy tales. We talk about struggles, cutbacks, and loss. If you were old enough to be in the workforce, own a home or business in that 2007-2010 season, you remember the challenges that we all faced, personally or professionally.

But from a marketing perspective, I think there are a few outcomes from that recession that we should actually be grateful for, as we look back on that time period. I’m not saying I’d like to go through it again anytime soon, but I do appreciate the discipline and learnings it offered us.

You had to be good to survive: In many industries, there was a glut of competition prior to the recession. People, products, and businesses could be mediocre and still survive. When the recession hit, it culled out those who were not offering services or products of high quality. If you were left standing it meant you were delivering something of genuine value.

The recession spotlighted trends we needed to be cognizant of moving forward: When every dollar is a precious one, people spend much more judiciously. It was a forced R&D era for many of us as we tried new offerings and stopped promoting the things that no one seemed interested in buying. Business owners and leaders got a clear understanding of how the marketplace perceived them and what they had to sell.

We learned how to demonstrate our value: There was no option – we had to sell based on value. Getting someone to even listen to your sales pitch meant you had to be proving an ROI or you weren’t going to get past hello. If we couldn’t clearly communicate how what we sold was going to enhance the buyer’s work or life, it didn’t get bought.

We valued and rewarded loyalty: The recession reminded us just how valuable our existing client base was to our business and our spirits. It was easy to get discouraged and worried back then, so when a client came back with their trust and their wallet – it not only helped pay the mortgage but it was affirming in a time when everything seemed so hard.

We got back to basics and realized the importance of them: When you are scrambling for sales, trying not to avoid having to lay people off and counting every penny, you scale back to the basics. This wasn’t just in terms of how we spent our marketing dollars but in how we ran our businesses in general. Marketing tactics like word of mouth were critical to our survival. To earn that word of mouth, we invested more deeply in our clients and solving their problems.

We lost our complacency and got innovative: When your back is against the wall, you get creative. Many companies, as they got very honest with themselves about their lackluster sales, re-invented some aspect of their offering. Our products and services improved as we fought to stay alive and earn and keep our customers’ attention and loyalty.

Our people got better: One of the best outcomes of the recession was that we had time to invest in our team. When sales were lean, we still had to keep everyone productive. Many organizations invigorated their internal culture to embrace more peer-to-peer learning and teaching.

The recession forced us to improve our offerings, our communications, and our team. The real question is, have you sustained those practices or has our recent economic good fortune allowed you to get a little out of shape again? Recessions are cyclical, and many believe we’re due for another soon. What could you do now to get ready?


Load up your bookshelf

May 8, 2019

bookshelfI’ve been working in marketing and advertising since the mid-80s. When I started my career, I thought I had a lot to learn. It was nothing compared to what we all need to learn today. Technology is driving the rate of change, and even though it’s hard to believe, it’s going to get nothing but faster. No matter how long we’ve been in the business – if we want to stay relevant and effective, we have to commit to continual learning and experimenting. So, get ready to load up your bookshelf.

Given that we all have a long weekend coming up with Memorial Day, I thought it might be a good time for me to make some reading suggestions so you can load up your bookshelf, Kindle or Audible account, depending on how you like to read. No matter how loaded your calendar is over the long weekend, you can probably get a good jump on one or two of these.

Some of these suggestions are hot off the press, and others have earned their classic status over time. I’ve tried to give you a good blend of focus areas, points of view and authors.

Location is Still Everything by David Bell

This book is very research-based and looks at how location influences our buying decisions online and in our local market. It’s a much better read than it sounds because the data is demonstrated and explained through some wonderful storytelling.

Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

This golden oldie is remarkably on point today, twenty plus years after it was published. Godin preaches the idea of adding and offering value to earn trust, as opposed to post-sale. The concepts are ridiculously simple to grasp, and yet very few businesses can get out of their own way enough to implement them consistently.

Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose

This book was published about a year or so ago and suggests that marketing can actually be a source of revenue versus an expense. There’s a catch to that equation of course, but this book creates a vision of what is possible and if they’re right, what is the inevitable future of marketing.

Crisis Ready by Melissa Agnes

Melissa Agnes draws from her experience in helping global brands, government organizations, and world leaders prevent and overcome a range of real-world, high-impact crises. No matter the size, type, or industry of your business, Crisis Ready will provide your team with insight into how to get prepped for a crisis and know how to handle it if/when it comes.

Talk Triggers by Jay Baer & Daniel Lemin

This book came out last October and this is a not to be missed read. Jay and Daniel have written a step-by-step tutorial on how to leverage word of mouth, ratings, and reviews to earn new customers and secure the ones you already have.

I Love You More Than My Dog by Jeanne Bliss

Bliss led the customer services teams at Land’s End, Allstate, and Coldwell Banker and in this book, she defines the five decisions that drive extreme customer loyalty that transcends good times and bad. Bliss is a master storyteller which makes this a fun and quick read.

If we want to be effective marketers, we can’t afford to stop learning. If reading isn’t your thing, then head to YouTube. Most of these authors also have their own YouTube channel and you can still benefit from their insights. But remember, just like Harry Potter, the movie can never cover everything that the book does. If you genuinely want to keep your saw sharp, crack open a book over the Memorial Day weekend and work your way through this list.


Is your content following the trend?

May 1, 2019

contentMost businesses have accepted or even embraced the idea that without creating content, your website can’t hope to compete for search engine rankings, high visitor counts, or much engagement. There are just too many sites out there fighting for the same eyeballs that you want.

If you don’t put something appealing and fresh in front of them, you’re going to be out of luck.

BuzzSumo did a study of over 100 million posts and came up with some very revealing data. I thought we’d take a look at a couple of the more interesting insights and diagnose what they might mean for how we should shape our content strategy.

Data point #1: Social sharing of content has been cut in half since 2015.

I believe many brands stopped sharing their content because they weren’t getting much engagement. While everyone is hungry for likes, comments, and shares, keep in mind that only a fraction of material is going to be unique enough to earn that level of activity.

We need to remember that over 85% of all social shares are done on the “dark web.” That’s not as sinister as it sounds. It just means that most of us share content person to person, in private messages or text messages as opposed to on our public newsfeeds, etc. When you’re calculating the engagement level of your efforts, don’t forget to create a metric or multiplier to factor in that reality.

If you aren’t consistently sharing your content, you need to ask yourself why. I’m going to guess that one of three things might be happening:

  • The content isn’t worthy of the time it would take to share regularly
  • You haven’t structured your department, workload, or day to include time to do the work of sharing
  • You haven’t leveraged the technology and tools available to make your sharing easier and more consistent

You would be better off producing less content if that meant it was of a higher quality and you were more motivated to share it. Content without distribution is a little like putting on a fancy dress to watch TV at home alone. No one is going to know, so why bother?

Data Point #2: There has been a growth in content sharing on LinkedIn, and many publishers are seeing steady increases in content engagement on the platform albeit from a relatively small base.

Two facts of note in that sentence. People are sharing more content on LinkedIn, and they are getting more engagement. The very thing everyone is looking for when it comes to defining value for their efforts.

I think LinkedIn is probably one of the most under-used social channels out there. Yes, odds are your “fan base” is smaller there. But odds are also good, if you live in the B-to-B space, that almost everyone you’re connected to is a potential prospect, referral source or partner.

I see more engagement on LinkedIn posts than any other channel. If your content is strong and unique to you, LinkedIn may be the perfect place for you to step up your game.

The other upside of using LinkedIn with more frequency is that you have far less competition there. While the study shows that there’s a growth in sharing, it still pales in comparison to the other big channels.

Another important attribute of LinkedIn is that people tend to read longer posts and articles. It’s less about the pictures, memes and other social media shortcuts. If you’re producing excellent content, it may get more of your audience’s attention and respect on LinkedIn.

We’ve only covered two of the insights from this research. Print off the full report and walk through it with your team, challenging your status quo as you do.



April 24, 2019

surpriseOne of the truths about marketing is that our work often hints at or takes advantages of cultural trends that are on the rise. I love that we get to leverage emerging shifts and mine them for the truths they contain. They’re like a little surprise waiting for us around the corner.

But to do that – we have to recognize and explore those trends.

One that I’ve been tracking for a bit is the idea of letting someone else make buying decisions for you. For a long time, we’ve known that giving a customer too many choices often leads to paralysis and no decision at all. There’s a reason why it’s often suggested that you give a client no more than three choices. But are the customers ready to have no choice?

An interesting new type of travel agency is cropping up and making the news. Imagine answering a few questions about where you’ve recently traveled, the kinds of things you like to do, and then paying for a trip without having any idea where you’re about to go.

Websites like Pack Up + Go, Magical Mystery Tours and The Vacation Hunt are offering this sort of service. They will plan domestic, international or an all-inclusive trips for you. You get an envelope you’re supposed to open at the airport (if you’re flying) or as you get into the car. Voila – that’s where you’re headed for vacation.

Want to hit the high seas? This isn’t just an US-based trend. In Great Britain, The Secret Sailaway will sail to six cities over about two weeks but, that’s right, you book the trip and have no idea where you’re going.

From the little bit of leg work I was able to do, it seems like these mystery travel companies have been around for a year or two. Sailaway just had its maiden voyage in March of 2018. If this does become a full-fledged trend, we’re on the early edge of it.

This specific trend may or may not grow to something significant. But what if it does? Could it change the way you offer your product or services?

That’s what I find most intriguing about trend tracking. Once you start to spot an emerging trend, you can’t help but try to apply it to your world. They’re certainly not all going to impact your work but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sharpen our skills at trend spotting.

Rohit Bhargava, author of Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas and Predict the Future talks about the three traits it takes to be good at recognizing what is shaping up to be a potential trend.

Curate: This is about gathering information and ideas from many sources and looking for the threads that connect those ideas and bits of information. He advocates archiving these fragments using a digital tool like Pocket or Dropbox, so you can step back and look at the bigger picture over time.

Be Curious: Rohit warns that staying curious is getting more difficult every day. With artificial intelligence and algorithms deciding what we see/read, we have to force diversity into our information consumption. He suggests buying books, magazines and consciously choosing to watch programs that aren’t your normal fare and don’t appeal to your interests.

Be Fickle: Don’t get too enamored with any emerging idea. Try to stay neutral so you don’t influence your observations. As a trend spotter, our role is to observe and report without bias. Otherwise, we might dismiss something important.

Given the speed of change in your world today, it pays to have some idea of where tomorrow will land. As Wayne Gretzky suggested, we have to skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.



How do you recognize transparency?

April 17, 2019

transparencyTransparency seems to be everywhere in the media lately so it has been only fitting that we have been discussing it.  We’ve been studying “mea culpa” ad campaigns and how the marketplace’s expectations around transparency play a role in that. We scratched the surface of how that same expectation influences buying decisions – both from a consumer and an employee point of view.

To round out the discussion, I’d like to wrap up by identifying how transparent organizations behave so you can not only determine your own level of transparency, but you can also make sure your key audiences recognize your efforts.

They have, share and live their mission and vision statements: I’m not talking about the seven-paragraph, jargon-filled, committee-written and approved mission and vision plan. I’m talking about a battle cry – a single sentence or a short series of phrases that defines who you are as a company, what you value and how those values shape your choices and behavior.

Every employee, and ideally, your customers should know what it is and be able to recite it. More important, they can give examples from their own experience of how you actually live it.

They speak plainly and truthfully: When a transparent company screws up, they own it. They don’t hide it behind legal trickery, fancy language, or hide. They out themselves and they focus not only on what happened but why it happened, and why it won’t happen again.

They’re accessible and open to questions and concerns: Whether it’s a monthly employee meeting with open Q&A or an active Twitter account that fields questions from consumers – a transparent company is present and ready to listen. They don’t always agree or say yes, but they respect people enough to give them a voice.

They take the first step: Transparent companies don’t wait to be asked. They know what people want to know concerning pricing, quality, and guarantees. Rather than waiting to be called out, they offer up the information before anyone can even think to ask.

They are the same in every venue: When you lead with your brand (another way of thinking about transparency), you’re the authentic you. Sometimes that’s playful you, showing employees enjoying an informal beer o’clock gathering. Sometimes that’s helpful you, sharing a blog post about how to best use your product. But it also means being candid you when you mess up.

It’s not about being one-dimensional, which is another word for being manipulative by putting on a front. It’s about being all of you and not trying to hide any of it.

They’re willing to make someone mad, leave, or stop being a customer: Being transparent as an organization isn’t about being a people pleaser or trying to make everyone happy. It’s about knowing yourself as an organization and being very clear and upfront about that, knowing that it will attract some and repel others. This is about wearing your organizational heart on your sleeve and letting your audiences decide for themselves if they love you or not.

Just a reminder – a genuinely transparent company behaves this way internally and externally. Again, there’s no faking it. You accept and celebrate who you are organizationally, keep trying to get better, and own up to the mistakes along the way.

This is one of those easy to say you do it, but hard to live it sort of things. You’re not going to get it 100% right. But own that and keeping living your goal to get better out loud so your employees, customers and potential customers can see you’re trying.

That’s what they really want. They don’t expect perfection, but they’re hungry to find organizations who are genuinely willing to try.