Any business can only thrive if there are clients who have a need for them. So, no matter what level of success a business achieves, it is still in a constant state of vulnerability. This isn’t something most companies would want to admit. Strong corporations are exactly that: always confident and daring without fear. But as our culture shifts, is this lack of honesty still the right tactic?
The Connection Economy is a term and theory posited by entrepreneur Seth Godin. The mass market, as he sees it, is phasing out. Consumers are looking for sincerity and authenticity. To achieve that, companies must be comfortable with vulnerability.
What is True Vulnerability?
Research has shown that those who believe themselves worthy of acceptance achieve this by embracing their imperfections. They do not hide who they are, flaws and all. They are honest about areas in their lives they need to work on to grow. These acknowledgements place them in a vulnerable position. However, they are comfortable with that. Can companies do the same? Yes. They can and they should.
The Need to Connect
Marketing researchers have been speaking about the benefits of the Connection Economy for years. As the economic baton passes from the Boomers to Millennials, companies need to change how they approach their public persona. Consumers want brands and businesses that are authentic. They respond positively to companies that are honest and transparent. Also, they appreciate a business that can admit to mistakes, as well as those who take political stances, staying true to their social values. These company choices are risky but well worth it, as they foster customer loyalty and organic growth. Let’s look at how a variety of companies chose to be bold with their sincerity.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Telling the truth can oftentimes be terrifying. What will the response be? What if others don’t like who you truly are? Even worse, what if they decide to abandon you as a result? This kind of exposure demands heaps of vulnerability. But, many companies value transparency and how it affects their consumers and brand. Not only are they willing to put all their cards on the table, they also can admit when another company may have a better option for their customer. Then, the customer is no longer making a choice based on finances. It’s now based on which company they trust more.
Southwest Airlines launched their Transfarency campaign in 2015. It demonstrated their commitment to spurning hidden, non-disclosed fees. Most notable about the site is the Fee Hacker section. Southwest is still offering assistance even if you don’t choose to fly with them. The company’s priority is clearly the customer. This year, Southwest took this value even further with 175 Stories. With this campaign, Southwest is saying “Travel is personal and we know that”.
B2B social media managing platform Buffer makes transparency a top tier value as well. Their website page on the matter includes everything, from team members’ salaries to open source code. And Burger King created an award winning ad campaign that poked fun at one of the truths about the company. Since 1954, more Burger King restaurants have burned down than any other fast-food chain. It wasn’t a flattering fact but it was true. Burger King was willing to admit to it. It was the perfect balance, connecting with print and social media users alike. Most importantly, it was authentic.
Taking a Stand
Brands having an opinion on social issues used to be unheard of. Doing such a thing would surely isolate a slew of potential costumers and damage public good will. But these times, they are a’changing. When new, controversial laws are passed or a hot button topic is dominating the social conversation, consumers look to companies to have a say in the matter. This significant change in public discourse puts companies in a vulnerable position no matter what they decide to do. They can risk public backlash by speaking up or lose their narrative power by remaining silent and letting customers infer the company’s beliefs based on their non-action.
This topic hits home for us at Atlantic BT. After North Carolina Republicans passed laws that threatened the safety and well-being of the LGBTQ community, most of the country was outraged. And numerous brands had something to say about it. Google, PayPal, and the NBA were among many who spoke out against the laws. The NBA threatened to not have Charlotte host their All-Star Game, costing North Carolina millions of dollars. Such a stance that is coupled with direct action, creates change. Companies are realizing this and consumers are saying “It’s about time”.
Consumers also care about how products are made, preferring companies who value sustainability. And they care about how a company gives back to the community. When a company advocates for a specific cause, customers are more likely to want to engage. Supporting a business that supports others adds value to the brand/customer relationship.
How to Say ‘I’m Sorry’
Every once in a while, a company is going to make a terrible mistake. They are more likely to recover from that mistake if they own up to it and sincerely apologize. Saying you’re wrong is peak vulnerability. But if businesses want to maintain their consumer base, they have to show humility.
Long, long ago, Netflix mailed DVDs to customers’ homes. Then, in 2011, the entertainment giant decided to make some changes. They separated the DVD and streaming options into two different plans. If a customer wanted both, they would have to pay extra. The backlash was swift. Netflix listened to their customers and reverted their policy. The CEO released a thoughtful apology. Good will was restored and Netflix went on to become the behemoth it is today.
Some companies take a different risk. Earlier this year, the unthinkable happened to KFC in the UK. They ran out of chicken. Many KFC restaurants were shut down. Weeping could be heard throughout the land. KFC issued an apology that got right to the heart of the matter. It was short, to the point, and funny. KFC showed real authenticity. It was appreciated.
Courage was originally defined as the act of telling who you are with your whole heart. This means presenting yourself as is, with every strength and every weakness.The companies that embrace that kind of vulnerability will draw in loyal customers. But most importantly, they’ll be a part of something great, producing work they can be proud of. Stand out and stand strong.