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Transparency and Public Image

We’re in an age now when transparency counts for something. That doesn’t mean you can’t be private. But it means you should be upfront about what you do. And care about your customer.

Consider two cases.

The late Steve Jobs was famously discreet about his personal life. He also instituted a culture of secrecy at Apple. This is understandable, given the nature of new product development and the hypercompetitive marketplace. But with Apple, there was also a mystique – part of it drawn from Jobs, who was charismatic and mysterious – and part from the emotional bond that consumers had with Apple products, which are so well designed, so “personal,” that they became more than objects, they became totemic representations of creativity.

When Jobs died last week, there were outpourings of grief from millions of consumers who did not know him, but who knew and loved the products he helped usher into the world, and that changed the daily lives of many. At Apple stores around the world, people affixed post-it notes to the windows and left flowers and messages that spoke to the power of someone who believed in his products – and himself.

What Jobs offered was quality, care, design at the highest level (meaning it was part of the function – transforming a commodity product into an object of value) and the sense that someone behind the creation actually thought about how it would be used.

Then consider Netflix, which since its decision to split its film rental service into two companies – one that was to be called Qwikster for the now old-fashioned DVD arm – and to institute a 60% price increase. Chief Executive Reed Hastings was particularly tone deaf to the public outcry – and to the thought that anyone would want an additional website, password and such to deal with in our already-complicated age, when too many passwords spell too many opportunities simply to give up.

Netflix finally decided to keep the two services together. But the damage has been done: It betrayed its trust. It had gone from a company that operated on simplicity – simply pop the prepaid envelope back into the mail – into one that was beginning to seem more greedy and stupid than caring. It didn’t consider the end user, but the profit.

Now, Apple products are not cheap. But people will pay for quality. Because the evidence was there in one’s hand. That’s what transparency is about, even with a corporate culture as close-mouthed as Apple’s. Provide good products, good service, honest value, and you will succeed.

It took a stock plunge for Netflix to realize how little it truly understood, or even cared about, its customers. It admitted a mistake – feebly and too late – in a move that was anything but transparent, but rather, if not desperate, then perhaps a stopgap. It damaged its reputation.

Steve Jobs is dead, but his contributions live on. Netflix has begun to build for itself a coffin.

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One Response to “Transparency and Public Image”

  1. Aldous Irving Jimenez-Echegoye October 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    This is always the case in any business.  Good business is making consumers feel genuine help and not being used for profit sake.  A product should add value to the consumer and not add burden to them.  I believe this why Steve Jobs is loved by many!

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