Robert Scoble visits Zappos Headquarters

Behind the scenes at a company meeting at Zappos’ headquarters. Image by Robert Scoble via Flickr.

It is no secret that marketing is out of step with today’s consumer.

The empowered status of the consumer, the migration away from interruptive messages, and the technologies and platforms that make listening more important than talking are disrupting traditional business models and making the jobs of CMOs tougher.

Traditional marketing used to be about controlled messaging, defined brand territory and the unilaterally and overwhelming representation of just one stakeholder in the conversation – The Brand.

But in a newly complicated world it is the consumer who is in control of the conversation.

For marketers, this means that transparency is crucial for engagement and brand love.

Patagonia supply chain map

Patagonia’s interactive map pulls back the veil on its supply chain.

The age of transparency

Transparency is the essence of the new business model. A great example of this is Patagonia, the outdoor apparel brand. Instead of producing slick fashion ads to communicate with its customers, Patagonia has laid bare the environmental and social footprint of its product line and marketing supply chain.

Its website, The Footprint Chronicles, features an interactive world map that pinpoints every textile mill and factory in Patagonia’s supply chain.

The map includes detailed profiles of key suppliers, along with video and photo tours of how Patagonia’s different products are made.

There are many other examples of companies that have evolved their business model to reflect the emergence of the Age of Transparency.

Zappos, the online retailer, is a model for a new way to build and run a business based on exceptionally accommodating customer service.

This philosophy – “Delivering Happiness” – is wired into their hiring practices, their corporate values and their customer interactions in a totally transparent way.

They even live-stream all employee quarterly meetings, including presentations by the CEO and other executives and Q&As with associates.

Dismantling the silos

For brands that believe in transparency, the business model itself is becoming the cornerstone of brand communication and the most critical step toward customer engagement.

We are entering a communications era in which consumers are developing a vested interest in what a brand stands for and demanding greater access to brand information than ever before.

It will be up to the CMOs to decide which firewalls to lift and which new ones to erect. In a connected world, it’s no longer possible to leave a gap between what a brand says and what the brand does.

Everything, from the distribution, to the call centre, to R&D, and to communications, will become more transparent.

That means that the CMO, the pre-eminent voice of the marketplace within the corporation, will have to become the catalyst for internal change: dismantling silos and evangelizing a consumer-centric, transparent business model to all in the organization, even those who don’t deal directly with consumers.

CEOs need to give marketers permission to change not only the brand but the organization, and with it, the business model itself.