Seth Godin’s case for greater transparency is an interesting take on an issue typically described in terms of corporate responsibility. Instead, he comes at it as a market opportunity. Those fighting to withhold information for fear of losing customers are actually putting themselves in a position to lose customers.
To support his point, Godin points out that more information drives sales (look at book reviews). More information is also a point of differentiation that creates consumer preference and loyalty.
And for those who argue that transparency increases costs, Godin has an answer—consumers who value transparency are likely to pay more for that assurance. (Though I wonder if this is yet true in practice—while there are some who seek out products certified as being made ethically or in an environmentally responsible way for example, it’s far from mainstream.) What’s more, as expectations for transparency rise and more information becomes the norm rather than the outlier, the market penalty for not disclosing will quickly rise.
For me, the wild card is still giving people the tools to make sense of all that information. I agree that greater transparency can be valuable, but it’s not necessarily valuable. Installing cameras in thousands of chicken coops may provide the appearance of transparency, but it’s most useful if there’s a way to turn all those video feeds into easily accessible and actionable information.
In other words, data is cheap, just a commodity. Information—providing insight into what the data means—is valuable. Finding patterns or connecting dots across information has even greater value. And analysis—delivering a relevant point of view or recommendation—is most valuable of all.
Godin is right to call out the benefits of transparency, but I think he overstates its inherent value. Transparency is an essential first step, but it’s how the data is refined, shared and applied along the way that’s most important.