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The Age of Opaque Brands is Over. That’s a Good Thing. (Thanks LaCroix)

If you had your eye on Twitter Moments in early October you may have seen a pile-on around the millennial-loved sparkling water brand, LaCroix. The croix of the issue (okay… crux… I just thought that was funny) was a class action lawsuit filed against the Wisconsin company claiming that its “natural essence” flavoring, which the brand has been tight-lipped about revealing, actually contains artificial flavors including “linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide.” Once this news hit the Twittersphere all hell broke loose and the brand’s legacy was likely tarnished forever.

The sad part is that it was completely avoidable.

Because the fact is not only do consumers prefer transparency, they demand it. Need proof? A study from Label Insight revealed that 37% of CPG consumers are willing to switch brands “if their current brand does not provide them with the product information they seek.” But you don’t need a study to tell you that brand honesty and transparency matter more than ever. Listen to your friends, family, and fellow consumers. GMOs are out. Organic is in. Processed ingredients are out. Clean ingredients are in. And that’s just food! Transparency is being demanded in all verticals. It’s clear that the American public has had enough of the opaque, do-not-look-behind-the-curtain corporations —  having become fed up with planned obsolescence (Apple), fake news (Facebook), and corporate cover-ups (Wells Fargo, VW).

What’s more, social media is now the megaphone that amplifies society’s collective cries. One timely retweet or share can turn an army of advocates into a bloodthirsty mob of keyboard warriors.

The hard truth: you’re no longer in control of your brand’s future.

So why is this is a good thing?

Transparency is good because it allows you to go on the offense. It’s your move to make things right. When you have nothing to hide you can work on making a great product and on being a better fit for your target consumer. At minimum, you’ve done the right thing by being the best you can. Plus, your honesty and transparency becomes part of your brand DNA.

Even better is the fact that not everyone is going to put in the effort to change. Lots of companies, brand managers, and business owners will think no one will ever notice or question their company, product, organization, or marketing. And they’re right … until they aren’t. Just ask the folks LaCroix. Actually, don’t ask them. Their social media manager probably needs a break.

How do brands adapt?

First, conduct an audit of your brand. Is there anything that feels “off” or anything that you think consumers may bristle over if they knew about it? Or is there something you know is just plain wrong that needs to be addressed? A questionable ingredient, an inferior feature, a not-quite-ethical marketing practice — they’re all worthy of review, and change. For inspiration, see what Panera did over the last couple years with its plan to remove all artificial ingredients.

Next, you’ll take what you’ve found and create plan for making the changes. Some aspects may be easier than others and if you’re in a big company you can expect this to take considerable time and effort. But keep at it. And remember, you don’t have to do everything at once. Prioritize and start chipping away.

Once you’ve got a plan, it’s time to create or revise your brand strategy. Depending on the nature of your changes you’ll want to develop a brand that speaks to your new found transparency. A brand strategy has its foundation is messaging, so make sure to address how you’ll approach each consumer touchpoint in a way that’s impactful and true to what you are and what consumers need and want.

There’s a ton more to this whole transparency and brand strategy thing, of course, but we’ll save it for other blog posts.

As always, if you’re interested in talking one-on-one about how to update your brand strategy and all the work that goes with it, give us a shout here. If you want to talk more about this blog post specifically, use the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Branding by Jacob Tyler

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