Leading or Misleading in product communications: Communicate clear and transparently

This blog part of the blogseries ‘Leading or Misleading’ on transparent product communications around  sustainability and health. Read its intro [here].

The key to marketing sustainable and healthy products is making the story informative, but still simple and preferred. But how do you provide transparency, whilst not overcomplicating things? What we’ve seen in the examples of the previous two blogs, is that brands or products that are perceived as ambiguous in their sustainable and health claims are losing credibility and consumer trust. On the other hand: brands or products that are perceived to be transparent and trustworthy are getting rewarded. For your transparent Leader communication, we are going to pay attention to two aspects: what you communicate and how.

What you communicate
We know the importance of context. After doing product research you should be aware of the good and the bad that comes along when buying your product. As a leader in product transparency, you want to communicate the entire story. This also means informing your consumers that there could be more to the product claim than meets the eye. If there are any challenges or problems, you want to address them. Study by Accenture shows that 62% of consumers want companies to stand up for the issues they care about. A leader in transparency sets goals for the product or brand for improvement on these issues. They provide a roadmap on how they want to achieve them, with regular updates on how things are progressing.

How you communicate
It might be difficult to share the entire product story on the packaging. Therefore, you need to make the story as accessible as possible. A way to do this is trying to direct the consumer to a place where they can find all the information they need to educate themselves. In order to stay on the same page with your consumers, they have to keep a clear understanding of the story you’re trying to tell. By understanding and researching your consumer, you have a good sense on the knowledge level about for example sustainability. Try to avoid jargon and technical terms if you know that the consumer is not familiar with this. Don’t forget that good communication is a two way channel: you should not only tell your story, but also listen to your consumers and try to understand them. Make sure your consumers can come to you when they have questions or doubts about the product. Even when you can’t solve the problem; consumers might be more forgiving when they know you listened.

Doing product communications right
Verstegen Spices & Sauces and Fairfood has found a great way to provide the entire story of nutmeg to the consumer. They use blockchain technology to make the production of the spice nutmeg completely transparent. The nutmeg has a QR code that brings you to a website that shares all information about the farmer, product, supplier, the brand and the consumer. The consumer can follow the entire journey of the spice and all agreements surrounding the product: from price fixing to quality claims. All they have to do is scan the QR code with their phone. We definitely recommend to check out their website.

Doing product communications wrong
Consequences of not researching properly can also be very expensive. For example, the Canada Competition Bureau fining the Canadian arm of Keurig Dr.Pepper Inc. US$2.37 million for misleading consumers on recyclability claims about its single-use coffee pods. Dr.Pepper tried to improve the circularity of their products, giving instructions on how to recycle correctly. However in this case Dr.Pepper did not look too much into the context of the product. The claims Dr.Pepper made were stated as inaccuratesince outside the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia, most recycling programs don’t accept Dr.Pepper’s single-use coffee pods. They also did not mention the additional steps required by some recycled programs. Therefore, they misguided the uneducated consumer to think that the coffee pods could be easily recycled when only the tops were peeled off. Additional to the fine, they had to pay US$67,000 for the agency’s costs, donate US$630,981 to a Canadian environmental charity, and publish corrections online, in print, and on the packaging of its new brewing machines. In this case, the communication was there, however it was inaccurate due to the lack of research of context and consumer understanding of the claims. Dr Pepper simplified the context to such an extent that it was rendered false and resulted in a substantial fine.

After reading this 3-part series you should know a lot more on what to do, and what not to do when trying to be a leader in transparency for health and sustainability. Be critical when you go through each checklist to see how much of a leader you are. You might find that you’ve unknowingly been a misleader, and you’ll find aspects that you can still improve on to become a better brand with better claims. We can help you improve, just contact us.

Transparent product communications – a checklist

  • I communicate the entire story, placing my product in context.
  • Consumers have easy access to the entire story of my product.
  • I proactively share product values, and goals of improvement on today’s issues.
  • I communicate the roadmap on how we are planning to reach product goals, and share updates on things that are in progress
  • I actively try to avoid misinterpretation by avoiding technical terms or ambiguous claims.
  • I anticipate on the questions or doubts my consumers could have about my product.
  • I am being responsive to the questions or doubts my consumers can easily share.
  • I measure how satisfied my consumers are with the level of communication, and actively try to improve this.