When big brands stumble: Starbucks and Toyota on hyper-transparency

The Guardian logoBring up the topic of failure, and most people steer the conversation back to success. But not Starbucks environmental impact director Jim Hanna, who challenged corporations and nonprofits to be “hyper-transparent” about their social impact in a speech at the We First Social Branding Seminar in Los Angeles last week.

“Hyper-transparency is a must. It’s not something we should be afraid of; it’s something we welcome,” said Hanna.

As Starbucks, Toyota, Coca-Cola and many other corporations around the globe figure out how to engage with customers on sustainability, transparency has become a marketing buzzword. In a sense, it’s the antithesis to the traditional marketing idea of controlling the message. And everything, it seems, is fair game – from the supply chain to product development to social media.

When Hanna says “hyper-transparency”, though, he’s talking about what he calls “pre-competitive trust”. One way to do this is by setting clear targets for environmental impact and corporate responsibility, such as Starbucks’ 2015 goal to make all of its paper and plastic cups – some 4bn per year – recyclable, according to Federal Trade Commission guidelines, in every Starbucks store around the world. In a few years, Starbucks has gone from 5% to 24% of global markets accepting cups for recycling, he said.