Honesty Really Is the Best Policy: Consumer Demand for Transparency Reaches New Heights

Your kindergarten teacher told you so, we’ve told you so, and now a major survey is telling you so: honesty is the best policy.

A new report from Cohn & Wolfe, From Transparency to Full Disclosure, which is based on consumer research of 3,000 adults across the UK, USA and China, reveals that consumers in three of the world’s biggest markets rate “honesty and transparency” alongside price and quality when considering whether to buy a product or brand.

Consumers in all three markets are now demanding that major brands be open and transparent about many issues, especially quality and safety. A total of 67% of those polled want to see how companies comply with product quality and safety standards, with 73% of Chinese respondents demanding such information.

Here are some of the other numbers that jumped out at us:

  • In the past year, the amount of UK consumers rating transparency as an important factor in their purchasing decisions has jumped from 53% to 66%. Amongst Chinese consumers, transparency and honesty is now considered even more important than price (79% vs 65%).

  • Nearly two thirds of consumers would be extremely angry if companies produced food in an unsafe or unsanitary way, while half would be extremely angry if a company failed to report some of the ingredients used in its food products.
  • 84% of UK and US consumers and 90% of Chinese consumers believe that if you are the leader of a company, you cannot claim ignorance about something bad happening in your business.
  • Half of consumers would stop buying a product or a service if they found out the company did not reflect their personal values, whilst 30% would encourage their friends and families to do the same. A quarter would go even further and support a boycott of the company. 

The takeaways from this data are pretty simple: Don’t mess with people’s food or their safety. If you run a company or brand, consumers will hold you accountable and responsible for any shannanigans that go down, so use your power for good (claiming ignorance won’t cut it anymore). If you make a mistake, own up to it. And, if you fall short on any of these counts, consumers are not only prepared to vote with their pocketbooks, but will also encourage others to do the same — and these days, “encouraging others” to bypass or boycott a brand no longer means one person complaining to another over lunch; social media is a thing, remember?

“The key insight for major brands is clear: embrace transparency and openness like never before, and consumers will reward you for it. Conversely, they may well vote with their wallets if you don’t,” said Geoff Beattie, global head of corporate affairs for Cohn & Wolfe, in a news release. “Even if a company is sitting on information which may cause negative public reactions in the short run, it is better to be open with consumers and admit failings where they occur. The public will forgive you for mistakes, but not for covering them up.”


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