5 steps to purposeful transparency about products

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The following is a sponsored article from Mohawk Industries.

In recent years, we’ve seen an ever-growing chorus of calls to increase transparency. Whether it’s consumers seeking detailed information about product benefits or supply-chain stakeholders wondering where and how products are made, transparency is becoming an expectation for business.

However, in this online age of abundant, easily accessible information, simply communicating more in the name of transparency is not the answer.

This realization prompts the question: "How do we share important product information with customers in a way that will help them make the right purchasing decision?"   

These five suggestions can be a way to work toward a more purposeful concept of transparency that is helpful to customers and businesses alike.

1. Handle certifications with care

Sustainability certifications can be a blessing as well as a curse. In the best instances, a product certification is a shorthand way to communicate a product’s benefits with a consumer and is widely known, third-party backed and respected by industry experts.

Other certifications serve only to distract or confuse a customer, and in some instances even can dissuade someone from making that purchasing decision. This is when transparency hinders rather than helps.

That’s why at Mohawk, we only make product claims that independently can be verified by third-party auditors, so purchasers can be confident that our products live up to our promises. Furthermore, we intentionally seek out meaningful assurance from organizations that customers already recognize and trust, such as Underwriters Laboratories.

2. Know what your customers want to know

In order to be more purposeful with the certifications you embrace, you need to know what criteria your customers base their decisions upon. In the flooring industry, there is a wide range of topics that end-users care about. A commercial customer, for example, may want to know about recycled content and end-of-life recyclability, while a consumer may be more interested in chemicals and toxins that could affect indoor air quality.   

In order to be more purposeful with the certifications you embrace, you need to know what criteria your customers base their decisions upon.

We rely heavily on our salesforce and clients to gauge what customers care about, based on their daily interactions with them. These insights have helped us shape our environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPDs) and they serve as a guide toward the certifications that our products bear.

3. More information isn’t always better

All of those certifications and declarations mentioned above fly in the face of rule No. 3: Just because you have all this information doesn’t mean that your customers want to know it all. The information must be conveyed in a simple way. Use graphics and color-coded symbols to tell a story briefly.

Two examples illustrate this challenge well. On the negative side of Too Much Information, think about when you sign up for a new online service. Have you ever read the lengthy terms of service that are boilerplate statements added onto these products and services? You can bet that almost none of your customers has either — even though that information can have dramatic impacts on their privacy and security.

On the positive side, take a look at your favorite snack food from the grocery store. While you may not like knowing how many calories per serving, the fact that you can see all that nutrition information at a glance is a testament to the effectiveness of the Facts Up Front campaign developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute.

4. Speak the same language as your customers

Even if you get just the right amount of information, there’s still the challenge of presenting it properly. Unless your customers are overwhelmingly lawyers, it’s probably best not to communicate as if they went to law school. When in doubt, follow the old maxim: KISS!

We’ve found the Declare program, developed by the International Living Future Institute, to be particularly effective with our sophisticated commercial customers. Declare program labels act as ingredient labels clearly showing where a product is made, its life expectancy, all the ingredients in the product, the end-of-life options for the product, and if it contains any Red List ingredients

5. It’s OK to keep some secrets

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to purposeful transparency is a mistaken belief in "all-or-nothing" disclosures: If you’re going to share some of your products’ ingredients, then credibility dictates that you have to share everything. The beauty of a credible third-party certification system is that it will allow products to be reviewed in full while keeping in place agreements to protect proprietary business information. For instance, a product with a key, proprietary ingredient would not be required to list that ingredient under product disclosures — as long as it doesn’t fall on a list of potentially harmful substances.

Keeping all these rules in mind — not to mention putting them into action — may seem like a daunting task, but in the end, your customers, stakeholders and even your shareholders will thank you for it.