Be Transparent

After navigating my way through a 24-year career in communications, I’ve come to place transparency as the key priority to any successful campaign, speech, presentation, proposal or simple gaming business interaction. People are tired of “spin.” They want to know the facts, the truth and what they can do to fix their problems.

At a recent deaf event I attended with my 14-year old daughter, a first-year ASL (American Sign Language) student, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of transparent communication. Notice, I said my eyes were open! These young deaf LoL students depend on facial expressions, lip reading and even interpreters to navigate through a hearing world. I had a glimpse into what it means to effectively communicate face-to-face with no judgment, bias or filters.

Isaiah, a 22-year old, deaf college student studying photography, conversed with my daughter,  his former interpreter and me for about 20 minutes. It was a delightful conversation that hit on some of the most controversial subjects of abortion, gay rights, freedom of religion, and ended with Isaiah giving my daughter a pep talk about not getting pregnant in high school. Wow! Was Isaiah a rare bird who felt so comfortable in our first meeting that he didn’t mind opening the door to these deep discussions? Or, does the deaf community value being “blunt?” Carrie Kaufman, an interpreter at the online gaming event, called it “Deaf Blunt,” and explained that many deaf people don’t have the same filters that hearing people do. They say it like it is.

In my mind it was brilliance. It was a breath of fresh air. It was effectively trusting and sharing what matters. It was straight to the point. I believe this is the way we should always communicate, whether in business or our personal communications.

What stops us? Fear. Fear that we will be perceived badly. Fear that we will expose the not so good. And, when it comes to promoting a company, it’s fear that we will tip our hand to our competitors, or that we will appear weak in the eyes of the media or our customers.

When it comes to helping position my clients in their given markets, I love to listen to their pitches and continually question them until their answers are simple, clear and to the point. This sometimes can take weeks or even months. It’s easy to identify the problems their companies are trying to solve, but not so easy for them to explain how they are attempting to solve them. This is where transparency comes in handy. It is one thing to state what you think your customers want, it’s another thing to back it up with league of legends statistics, testimonials and visuals (show it, don’t just tell it). Why did you really start this business? Why do you think it matters? Get to the essence.

  • Transparency is embracing who you are and communicating it with persuasion.
  • Transparency is not worrying about how you are going to come across or be perceived.
  • Transparency is taking accountability for a situation that doesn’t go as planned.
  • Transparency is taking a controversial stand about an issue that you deem is important.
  • Transparency is a winning PR tool and what makes social media so intriguing.

The Domino’s Pizza Turnaround Campaign

The Domino’s Pizza “Turnaround” campaign is a bold success story and perfect example of transparency at work.  “The Turnaround,” for those who haven’t seen it, is a brutally honest approach to convincing customers to buy a product. In the advertisement, Domino’s employees sit through focus groups while customers openly berate the pizza. People were saying such awful things that some Domino’s employees started to cry. The ad then shows the creation of a new-and-improved pizza and follows employees as they approach their customers directly and ask them to test it out.

So When Doesn’t Transparency Work?

The problem with many start-ups is that they believe the problem they are solving is universal, and that their product or solution is a one and only. Most of the time, this isn’t the case. Take for example a client we worked with seven years ago, who came to market thinking that users were disenchanted with Google because their algorithms weren’t giving them relevant organic results. The problem with this company’s solution was that it required its users to change their behavior when searching, having them add a prefix to a search term in order to directly navigate to a website through the browser. In addition, this search engine was reliant on its users to build a repository of relevant content that would beat Google at the relevancy game. Getting this built would take time, so new users wouldn’t realize the potential benefits of this new and improved search at first. Unfortunately, even though the founder tried to be disruptive and communicate transparently, the communications got stuck at trying to convince users they were having a problem with a product they had come to use and love all day, everyday. This was a swimming upstream situation that transparency couldn’t even overcome. If you can’t convince your audience they have a problem, how are you ever going to get them to listen to your solution?

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So, to wrap it up…Transparency does work and is essential to building a following. Just make sure the problem you are trying to overcome is universal. Then keep your message simple, almost bordering on “blunt.” Don’t spin, say it like it is. You and your customers will be better for it.

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