Sunday, April 26, 2009

About trust and transparency: walk the talk

Regardless of industry, engaging consumers requires among other things a strong connection and a need to identify with a brand. Engaging through social media has our attention these days, but exhibiting engagement is everything but new to marketing: social media engagement’s analog has been exhibited in the past with behaviors such as wearing a T-shirt touting a brand or ostentatiously consuming a brand in a social situation. It is a statement of one’s identity and desired projected image driven by association and a perception of a benefit from that association (being cool, being smart, being a trusted source of information, being sophisticated, being involved in a cause, being proud of belonging….). Social media engagement adds to the process a two way dynamic combined with speed.
While connecting with a brand is a personal experience, independently of how it is manifested by the consumer, key principles need to be present from the brand’s perspective and the consumer's perception of the brand. Fard Johnmar during his discussion at Social Pharmer and Steve Woodruff in this post, highlighted 4 critical criteria: among them Transparency. Transparency is an ingredient of trust. I am on the record (at Social Pharmer) for saying that transparency is probably one of the easiest criteria to achieve. Why?
Because as a company this is something we fully control. We can not control what consumer say, we might not control how fast we can react, but we control how transparent we are. Granted, in many companies (or industries), this might mean a cultural change (change management can be tough). I remember a story my dad told me about trust. He spend a major portion of his life in the military and fought many wars; one of them being the French-Algerian war (a pretty nasty war if you ask me). In charge of a battalion with a mix of metropolitan troops (meaning from the French continent) and indigenous troops (meaning from Algeria), he, one day received the order to take away the weapons from the indigenous troops every nights to reduce the risk of defectors flying away to the enemy with their weapons. He stood up and never carried the order with the belief that his troops were to be treated the same way, regardless of their origins. He trusted every single man in is battalion and he believed that this trust was build on the fact that they trusted him and he trusted them. He believed that any break in the reciprocity would have ended the relationship (aka trust). He ended up being one of the very few commanders (there were 2 of them) to never have a defector. Every single man under is command stayed with him. This is one of his proudest achievements. I share this value with him.
Evidently, I am not advocating that we do no listen to our corporate guidelines, but we need to remember what is in our control and what is not. Transparency is only a decision of how we conduct business and any businesses can achieve it. It is one step to gain trust from consumers, and it is an asset any company needs to build and cherish. It takes coherence, consistency, true adherence to recognized and shared principles, candor and in the end leadership. What we say is what we do.


  1. Very interesting article. Do you feel that more Pharma companies will become transparent through Social Networking sites or become more restrictive due to FDA guidelines prohibiting information being delivered to consumers, through Social Networking avenues?
    - Dan

  2. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I do believe it is in the interest of any company in any industry to be transparent and foster trust, and that it should be part of the culture and values (and for those who didn’t in the past it should have been). I see social media as independent of nurturing this value and therefore regardless of how a company markets its products it should embrace transparency. This said, the ubiquitous access to information via the net and social networks (and influencers) is definitely a motive for companies to cultivate transparency since ambiguity (or non-transparency) is or soon will be (nearly?) impossible to achieve (someone will find out and expose whatever it is that you’re trying to hide).
    Additionally, as stated in the post, transparency is a key component of success in social media. Being a believer in the potential of social media marketing, I do think that we will see more transparency in all industries including pharma. We are looking at establishing relationships with our audiences (consumers & HCPs for pharma) and relationship needs trust in its foundation. No transparency: no trust. No trust: no relationship.
    In terms of the FDA (and btw the FTC is also looking these days), while they can and might restrict the information we are trying to deliver, it does not change the message we need to convey through transparency: trust.
    Also, it seems to me that, for the FDA, the issue is not so much the media but the message and its packaging and how far its components (the claims, PI, side effects..) are from each other.
    Social media present a great opportunity for all companies to work on building a much needed trust and establishing long term relationship. This is why I believe that we will see transparency flourish as an operating value in all industries including pharma.