Your brand was a black box. Now it’s a glass box.

Back in the day a business was a black box. For outsiders, it was pretty hard to see what was going on inside.

The brand was painted on the outside of the box. People came and looked at it. They either liked it or they didn’t.

Today a business is a glass box. Outsiders can easily see inside. They can see the people and the processes. They can see the values. They can even see what the people inside the box feel about what they’re doing.

That’s thanks to the transparency that is part of a connected world. Transparency makes stories like the 2015 New York Times take down of Amazon’s culture much more likely. But the revolution is that no one working at Amazon today needs the New York Times to let the world know that they hate working at Amazon.

Or take Volkswagen. They hyped the Transparent Factory, where customers could watch their VW Phaeton being built before their eyes. But turns out they forgot their whole brand is one massive Transparent Factory. And that brand took a crunching hit when people got to see what was going on inside.

All this has one big consequence for the meaning of the word brand.

Back when a business was a black box, the brand was only (okay, mainly) whatever was painted on the outside.

Now that a business is a glass box, the brand is everything. Every person. Every process. Every value. Everything that happens, ever.

Whatever happens inside your business: the world can see that. If they can’t right now, they will soon. If it’s of any possible interest to anyone outside the box, it will be seen.

It will be part of your brand.

And if you’re brand is unethical, or callous, or slipshod, or just kind of meh, no one is going to want to hang out with you.

So if you want to build a brand that people will love, there’s now only one way. Start with what is deep inside your business and work your way out. Create a business you’re happy for the world to see all the way through. One with great internal processes, driven by great values, put into practice by happy people. That takes real meticulousness.

It also helps if you’re starting from scratch. But in 2017 a powerful play for established brands is this: show consumers you’re moving in the right direction. That’s why our network at TrendWatching continues to see examples of a trend we first spotted back in 2015: Insider Trading, which is all about making positive changes to your brand’s internal culture and processes, and telling the world about them.

In December we saw the South Korean Lotte Group make one month’s paid paternity leave compulsory for all employees who become fathers. Before that we saw UK bank HSBC offer staff gender reassignment surgery through existing private healthcare plans.

Before that we saw Starbucks open a store in Kuala Lumpur dedicated to hiring deaf staff. These businesses are already starting to understand that their insides are now their outsides. Their internal processes, culture and values are just as much their brand as their biggest campaigns. Indeed, in 2017 telling the world about internal stuff can BE your biggest campaign — check the love and great posters Spotify generated around its parental leave policy.

But some startups are able to encode glass box thinking in their DNA from the start. Juno is a new Uber competitor in NYC. And the point of difference that Juno claims against Uber? Nothing to do with cost, speed, or service quality. It’s that Juno pays its drivers more, and gives them equity in the company. Think about that. A brand that doesn’t even try to differentiate itself against its rival on the basis of anything that you, the customer, experience. Instead, all Juno wants you to know is, ‘we treat our people better’. That is its brand. And it works.

Will Juno sweep Uber away? Almost certainly not. Uber has spent $insane building an indestructible advantage. But the set of consumer expectations that Juno is tapping into are powerful and they’re not going away.

So don’t get hung up whether this David will/won’t beat the Goliath. Ask yourself: what do these expectations mean for our brand? And how can we act to meet them? Taking inspiration from the Insider Trading examples above is a great place to start.

Where does all this ultimately lead? You can’t build a great brand any more. You just have to be a great business, all the way through. That’s your brand. Maybe we’re not there yet, but we’re on the way.

David Mattin is Global Head of Trends & Insights at TrendWatching.

TrendWatching’s content and tools give business professionals in 180+ countries the actionable foresight and inspiration to create successful trend-driven innovations.

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