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How Data Transparency is Impacting Reputation and Brand Trust

September 12, 2022

During The Walrus Leadership Forum ‘Trust in Tumultuous Times’, Gen Tomney, Vice-President at Proof Strategies, stated that to build trust, values and actions count; “Say what you’re going to do and do what you say.” It’s that simple and hard, as some UK brands found out this past International Women’s Day.

Organizations with 250 or more employees in the UK must report gender pay gap data. An automated Twitter bot, @PayGapApp, became a sensation in March when it pulled this publicly available gender pay data and retweeted organizations marking International Women’s Day, highlighting the pay gap. For example, Weston College tweeted about #internationalwomensday and was retweeted by @PayGapApp, noting, “In this organisation, women’s median hourly pay is 9.7% lower than men’s.”

In response to this contrast between words and actions, some organizations deleted their post or blocked the Twitter bot; others responded with explanations or commitments to do better. While International Women’s Day spurred the creation of this bot, data transparency and trust are applicable any day of the year.

Canadians want business leaders to speak about important issues

According to the 2022 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index, over half of Canadians (57%) believe business leaders should regularly speak out about important issues. This aforementioned Twitter bot exemplifies how data transparency and accessibility make it easier for brands to be called to task for not aligning their values with actions.

Deeper dive into data transparency

Transparency isn’t just expected of organizations; it also drives purchasing decisions and job acceptances. A 2021 consumer intelligence study by PWC found that individuals are more likely to support or work for an organization that shares their environmental, social and governance values, including transparency. Transparency also drives trust, with 63% of Canadians saying that open communication from an organization leader signals a trustworthy company or brand.

Becoming a transparent organization does not have to be a monumental task. Think of an open kitchen in a restaurant – having half a wall removed or a window into the kitchen space can make a world of difference. Having that sightline into the behind-the-scenes allows patrons to feel more connected to their dining experience through trusting and understanding what occurs behind closed doors. You don’t have to take down walls or install windows to achieve this; instead, identify what your audience, whether that’s employees or customers, cares about. This can be done by directly asking them or through external research to determine what they want to know and what matters to them. Sharing values with an organization improves trust, with two-thirds of Canadians saying this makes organizations more trustworthy.

Everlane is a fashion company that has taken transparency to the next level – they call it “radical transparency.” They provide a breakdown of the true costs of each product, sharing everything from materials to labour to duties, and showcase what a competitor brand would also markup the product. The transparency carries into their product and supplier sourcing, auditing each supplier for fair wages, reasonable hours and environmental impact, selecting only the highest-ranking factories. While this is an extreme example, this transparency is not a huge lift. It was done with data and information Everlane already had; they made it publicly accessible on their website.

The importance of asking meaningful questions

People tend to share what they feel puts them in the best light, and that’s no different for brands. However, data transparency makes it easier than ever for people to peek behind the curtain and call out inconsistencies between words and actions.

Before inserting a brand into a conversation or marking an occasion, ask meaningful questions to ensure alignment between what the brand is saying and doing.

Three tips to guide your actions

1. Keep an eye on your community: comments and messages from your social audience are an early warning sign. Ensure community managers flag interactions that call out your brand or organization for inconsistencies between words and actions.

2. Know the values that matter: shared values drive trust between employees and their employers, and between customers and brands. During routine employee surveys and conversations or customer satisfaction surveys, inquire what environmental, social and governance values matter. Trust is contextual.

3. Be prepared: in a world where data is at risk of cybercrime and easier to find than ever, ensure your organization is ready, prepared to respond and able to reassure customers and employees. Whether data is shared through a breach or creative sleuthing, your response and reassurance will be under a microscope from your audience.