The Emergence of the Honest Economy

There is a strong narrative emerging in the marketplace. Increasingly, companies are offering a more “behind-the-scenes” look into their organizations. Corporate social media pages are adopting personas to help bridge the gap between product and consumer. Commercials are featuring more real-life stories and individuals instead of actors. In this era of the honest economy (a term coined by Marcus Sheridan), companies have learned it pays to appear more authentic to consumers.

One might suppose it all started back in 2008, when the global economy tanked. It is easy to measure the losses by the numbers. Large corporations and businesses bled billions of dollars overnight, and thousands of jobs were cut. Entire 401k accounts were depleted. But if you look deeper, something more than just figures was lost.

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Whatever trust and goodwill from the general public was no longer assumed. There was a general distrust of huge conglomerates, and people called for the responsible parties to be held accountable for their greed and unscrupulous practices, as evidenced by the Occupy movements and WikiLeaks scandals. Consumers spent less and grew more cautious in their investments. What they were looking for went beyond the thin, professionally-polished veneer. What it boiled down to was a call for transparency.

Many corporations have since stepped up to the challenge. In equal parts efforts to rebuild their businesses and restore public image, companies have started candid dialogues with consumers. In the honest economy, the players who appear the most transparent about their business are the ones winning the most customers. Vendors like McDonald’s started listing the calorie count for each of their burgers and meals. CarMax created a system with thorough reports and fact-checks. Even non-profits have followed suit—charity: water aims to show you exactly where every penny of your donation is going.

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Some companies are taking it a step further by enlisting the consumer to speak on behalf of their brand. One of the more popular brands at the forefront of this movement is Taco Bell. For its “Live mas” campaign, Taco Bell has leveraged video and social media to promote the idea of their food as a life experience. Its “Doritos Locos Taco” commercial featured pictures submitted from fans on Instagram. In another short video feature, a fan named Justin expresses his love of the beefy crunch burrito by getting a tattoo of one.

This advertising strategy achieves two things. First, it breaks down the layer of skepticism between the consumer and corporation. The public might not trust a pitch from a corporate marketing committee, but what if the pitch came from one of their very own? You gain more social currency when a disinterested member of the public admits he prefers your brand over another. At the same time, as you give them a line to voice their opinion, you are also empowering them to become more vocal about their passion for your product or service. In essence, you are enabling them to become your greatest influencers within their own networks and communities.

Is your business striving to be transparent in the way it conducts business or sells its products? If not, see this as an opportunity to start a clear line of communication with your audience. As the marketplace continues to evolve, the language that will most resonate with consumers is not one of slickness but authenticity.

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