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Is Fake Transparency Worse Than No Transparency?

· Transparency,trust

Fake transparency - The worst of all marketing & messaging strategies...

What say you?

When I started telling people I was writing the book, “The Transparency Sale”, conversations would inevitably turn to, “Hey, Todd, I’ve got an example of a transparent company!” Those examples were truly helpful, framed some of the examples in the book, and also showed me that transparency is the exception rather than the rule today.

However, a couple of those conversations I've found are examples of "fake" transparency:

When my car dealer published their car pricing online.

“The price you see online is the price you pay”. Sounds very transparent. However, when I walked in, that online price only applied if I was BOTH a first responder AND a recent college graduate. In other words, it’s the price you pay if you’re a unicorn. Have you ever met a recent college graduate who is also a first responder? That sounds pretty rare to me. Apparently a fourth or fifth responder doesn't count, and > 20 years is no longer "recent" when it comes to college graduation.

The Domino's Pizza Tracker

"Hey, Todd, are you going to talk about Dominos in the book?" Turns out they were talking about the pizza tracker, believing that to be an example of transparency. When you order online, you're able to see the progress of your pizza - as it's being made, in the oven and eventually completed. Tonight I ordered a pizza for the kids. I used the tracker to determine when to leave my house and pick up the pizza. The tracker said that my pizza is "in the oven", so I jumped in the car and drove over. As I pulled into the parking lot, the notification of “Complete” appeared on my phone. "Wow, perfect timing" I thought to myself. I then proudly walked in, and on the screen it says “Todd C --- Ready”.

Here was the conversation with the individual working at the front counter:

“I’m Todd C, and have a pizza pickup.” (said while I pointed up to the screen).

Instead of looking in the warmer, the guy behind the counter immediately started looking at empty pizza boxes behind him that have stickers on them. Unable to find the stickered-empty box with "Todd C" on it, he then walked over to the sticker printer, which had a few hanging off of it. Sure enough, my order stickers were still hanging off the printer.

“I’ll go work on this right now. It'll be about ten minutes.”

Confused, I asked, “Ummm, my app says "Complete" and your screen says ‘Ready’. Do those terms mean something different in pizza language?”

“Oh, sorry. That tracker is just a gimmick. The timing of the notifications aren't based on reality. I'm not even sure what it's based on.”

When you’re offered a free whitepaper or resource download on a company’s website

I'm not sure if this is considered "fake transparency" or just misleading. A post on LinkedIn advertised a "free research report" which looked interesting to me. I clicked on the link, and was taken to a landing page, which contained a form I was required to fill out before receiving the report. It asked for my name, title, company, location, company size, corporate email address and phone number. The only questions they failed to ask were my social security and credit card numbers.  

Well, if I’m giving you all of my information, it’s not really free then, right? Giving-to-get is the epitome of paying for something. My information is payment for the report. IT'S NOT FREE, but you enticed me by saying it is.

Either be transparent, or don't be. The data and the behavioral science tell us emphatically the transparency sells better than perfection. But fake transparency (IMHO) has got to be worse than both.

Every interaction with a potential client is an opportunity to either build trust or erode it. In all three circumstances, trust is immediately eroded. And once trust is eroded, it's incredibly difficult to earn it back.

In the car buying example, I’m either spending more than I originally planned or I’m about to enter into a negotiation battle I didn’t anticipate. Either way, I no longer trust you.

With Dominos, I no longer know what to believe. Dominos sure goes a long way to put that tracker in the middle of their differentiated value proposition, and it's vapor.

In the website download example, trust is immediately eroded as well. I understand why they ask, but ask after you have fulfilled your commitment.

If the research is valuable and I want more, I'll sign up! Earn it! Earn the take!

Transparency wins. Hiding flaws and expecting to get away with it is a loser’s bet. However, in my opinion (and I can’t wait to hear yours), pretending to be transparent when you really aren’t is the worst of all options.

Do you agree? Is fake transparency worse than no transparency?

Have you bought the book, The Transparency Sale?

  • If yes, you'd be doing me an amazing solid if you gave it a review from wherever you bought it. I'll be your best friend if you do! 😀
  • If not, you can find it on Amazon or pretty much anywhere books are sold online. It's still in a few stores, too.

As always, please feel free to reach out if you are looking for a speaker or training workshop for your organization, or just want to nerd out on some of this stuff. Email to, or you can just reach out or follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter, too.

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