The Naked Corporation was written over a decade ago, but there are signs all around us the prophesy is finally coming true. This was the topic of last week’s What’s In Your Stuff event, a panel discussion hosted by Cone Communications, on the topic of transparency, technology, and consumer behavior. As Dara O’Rourke, one of our panelists and the founder of the Good Guide put it, “The age of companies telling us what to believe about their products is going away.” At the same time, Dara acknowledged that this shift is more complex than simply releasing information about the footprint of products because consumer decisions are driven by “habit, status, and manipulation.”
So how are these emotional and functional needs of consumers being “manipulated” for a better world? We are seeing that linking values to both a consumer’s status and their need to belong is working. Celebrities like Leonardo diCaprio and Cameron Diaz who choose sustainability over glitz have helped make the Prius cool. Similarly, the trend of social shopping is making it possible for people to “belong” to groups who are wearing their values on their sleeves, Facebook pages, or wristbands. On the more functional side, according to Julie Wittes Schlack, another panelist and VP of Innovation and Design at Communispace, people are fulfilling their need for frugality by leveraging apps like the Find to help them find the cheapest prices or Good Guide to make sure there are no carcinogens in their sunscreen or lead in their children’s toys.
Companies and the PR agencies that advise them must prepare for this new reality because it means much more than communicating to your consumers, it means disclosing your impacts and engaging them in an authentic dialogue. Timberland, another one of our panelists, is one of the few companies that have embraced the new, naked, reality. Timberland has gone further than most companies by applying transparency at the product level and making it possible for consumers to see the environmental footprint of their shoes on their environmental ‘nutrition labels’.
The final piece of this puzzle, the piece that is fueling the entire phenomenon is technology and design. As Theo Forbath, the VP of strategy innovation at Frog design pointed out, whether its crowdsourcing, smart phone apps, QR codes, or the underlying open-source nature of the internet, all of these are major factors in enabling information to be collected and shared. Design is the icing on the cake that is making complex information accessible in simplified formats.
In coming weeks, Cone’s account staff will be digging deeper into the issues discussed at What’s In Your Stuff and the driving forces behind transparency. We will be posting clips from the panel on the blog and look forward to hearing your feedback!
-Ziba Cranmer, Vice President, Cause Branding and Nonprofit Marketing