The Latest Paradigm Shift in Marketing: Transparency

An increasingly popular buzzword in online marketing today is ?transparency.?

It means the more you reveal about yourself to your prospects, the more they will bond with ? and hopefully buy from ? you.

Transparency is contrary to the classic copywriting rule stated so eloquently by my old direct mail mentor Sig Rosenblum decades ago:

?The reader isn?t interested in you. The reader is interested in her needs, fears, concerns, problems, and desires.?

Transparency represents a paradigm shift of the prospect’s attention from herself to you, the marketer.

Is transparency true? Do you really care which blend the CEO of Starbucks drinks ? or whether Joe Vitale is buying yet another expensive sports car?

I have trouble believing anyone cares much about what I do, like, or think. (Of course, I am more boring than Joe.)

But in case I am wrong, and transparency is what you crave, here are 15 things about me I probably haven?t told you before:

1?I am a grumpy old man ? over 50 ? who is increasingly alienated from our youth-oriented culture.

2?I am a luddite. I don?t own a Blackberry ? a PDA ? a Bluetooth … a wireless laptop ? an iPod ? an iPhone ? a Kindle … or even a cell phone. Nor do I have any need of or use for them.

3?If you held a gun to my head and said I had to send a text message over a cell phone, or a photo over the Internet, or you?d shoot me ? I?d be dead. I do not know how to do these things and have no interest in learning.

4?Although the Internet has eroded my attention span like it has everyone else?s, I am still an avid reader of books, both fiction and nonfiction.

5?While I read widely on a variety of topics, I have recently returned to science fiction, the preferred genre of my youth, and have put up a science fiction web site:

5?I buy and listen to music on CDs. I do not download from iTunes.

6?Although I read every day, my preferred mode of getting news is a newspaper ? a medium my teenage sons say is the most absurd thing they have ever seen.

7?I don?t watch much TV. I enjoy TV as a medium, but there?s not much on I like. I wish there were. My favorite show was Gordon Ramsey?s Kitchen Nightmares, and I hope it comes back.

8?My main hobby, aside from reading, is keeping tropical fish. I have a web site dedicated to this hobby: The latest addition to my aquarium is a freshwater stingray.

9?I also like nature, particularly lakes and rivers. We have a weekend home on a lake, and naturally I have a web site on that too:

10?In school, my original major was chemistry (later changed to chemical engineering), and my goal was to be a scientist.

11?I am not entrepreneurial by nature. The primary reason I became a freelancer in 1982 was that my company asked me to relocate and I did not want to go.

12?I am a homebody. I do not like to travel ? and with rare exception, I don?t.

13?I love writing. I agree with (I think it was) Noel Coward who said: ?Work is more fun than fun.? My two favorite activities are reading and writing.

14?I have two teenage boys, Alex and Stephen, and the most important thing in the world to me is being a good dad.

15?I got married at a young age, in my 20s, and was the only one of my friends to do so. Amy and I have been happily married for 26 years, and we will continue to be so for as long as I live or until she changes her mind.

So there?s my transparency in a nutshell.

Now I have to ask: Is this list as boring to you as it is to me?

Or are these things you really want to know ? and if so, for heaven?s sake why?


692 thoughts on “The Latest Paradigm Shift in Marketing: Transparency

  • Mr. Bly, I must be as boring as you, because I like so much of the same things you do! Maybe it’s in the nature of being a writer! I like to read and love to write. The only pet I’ve ever had were two goldfish that died within a week. All my music comes from CDs or radio. Although, on one deviation, chemistry is not my predilection.

    Your mentor is right, IMHO. People care about the quality of their lives and how to improve it. If that can be done by comparing and emulating others, then by all means, the transparency notion comes into play.

  • Bob,

    Number 14 hit a chord with me. Regardless of our wealth, fame or success, if we do not love our children and do what is needed to make them successful adults (provide your definition of success here), we have failed the world. I will accept income limits, I will accept career shortcomings, but I will not accept the loss of my son’s love or admiration — or the fact that I failed to give him the emotional and intellectual tools to decide his own fate.

    That may make me a business failure. So be it. I have my priorities.


  • Two things:

    1- Yes, there is something about reading these little details that makes me more loyal to your products. I suppose it’s that human connection that happens when you state something and I say to myself, “Hey, I’m just like that and thought I was the only one.” Or perhaps it’s more because I read this stuff and say, “This guy is really telling how it is, that’s why I trust him. He’s not B.S.-ing about how he travels the world and spends 15 hours a day on the beach or snowboarding in the mountains.”

    2- Transparency IS becoming a hugely effective marketing tool, I think. I think it has to be in this day and age of palm-tree-littered sales pages all over the Internet that tell you about a 16-year-old who makes $50k a month with some search engine manipulation scam. A perfect example is Timothy Sykes’ day trading blog. I don’t know of any other stock “guru” as transparent as he is on his blog. Perhaps that’s why he makes more than $150k per month with just 3,000 unique visits a day.

  • If Amy changes her mind tomorrow and drop kicks you to the curb – just let me know!


    How’s that for a little transparency? lol

    Seriously, tho – I don’t think people really want anything they ask for. Even though they might actually believe they do.

    It is the same old forbidden fruit mentality.

    When the dust settles it settles right back at Chaucer’s door…”familiarity breeds contempt”.

    100 Percent Health

  • Over the past 2 decades corporations have been hiding themselves behind call centers: There is now way to talk to someone – I like to call them human firewalls … now suddenly the web is suppose to restore humanity to business.

    I think this transparency thing is a lot of talk about nothing new: people do business with people they like – birds of a feather flock together.

    I’ll do business with you if:

    1) I trust you (you solve my problem, are credible)
    2) You understand my needs
    3) We understand each other
    4) You charge what I define as an acceptable fee

  • Timothy: I think I know what you mean by scummy lying sales pages, but my sales pages don’t lie, they are not scummy (unless you think selling itself is scummy), and they generate conversion rates of 5% to 12% and up, so they work. What part of that do you object to? BTW, there is plenty of “transparency” (info) about me on most of my sales pages, so the 2 techniques are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

  • I think the transparency thing is not too far away from your mentor’s rule:

    “The reader isn’t interested in you. The reader is interested in her needs, fears, concerns, problems, and desires.”

    I think “transparency” is just a clever new spin on attracting the reader.

    If you look at most social media/networking gurus leveraging “transparency” in their copywriting–I think Brian Clark or Chris Brogan–they are not trying to get you to be beer buddies. No, they are attracting your trust that they can address your needs, fears, concerns, problems, and desires.

    I wouldn’t mistake technique for emotion. I use transparency too, but never fear their is an objective.

    Bob, I thought I was the only one without a Blackberry and I am just under 40…transparency?

  • Bill: You may BE the only guy under 40 without a Blackberry! Do you at least have an iPhone or iTouch? If not, I will send you a membership certificate in my new Luddite Club!

  • Like some of the others have stated, I think it’s all just a matter of trust and showing a little vulnerability.
    I’ve also seen you do that in some of your emails from time to time.
    And you can add me to the ‘under 40’ club…38 years old, no blackberry, iphone or itouch…just a basic cell phone the wife makes me carry around to keep tabs on me.

  • Bob:

    If your mentor was right, and consumers absolutely crave solely information about products themselves and their features, and not about who uses them, then all endorsements are a sham and a waste of money.

    Personal information about the creator or a user enable a consumer to make a psychological leap and thus picture himself in someone else’s shoes using a product or service.

    In the personal example you cite, the ways of a luddite inspires those who would give up the corporate life to espouse a freelancer’s life of curmudgeonly independence. Corporations do not tolerate employees who are luddites.

  • Lou: endorsements are NOT transparency. Transparency refers to the marketer talking about himself. ENDORSEMENTS are testimonials for a product from supposedly objective third parties. They are in no way related.

  • I suspect that the desire for transparency comes from Robert Cialdini’s principle of “liking” (in the book “Persuasion”) People want to know who you are to decide whether or not they “like” you.

    Transparency only works if you’re likable. If you’re a jerk, you’re better off hiding that fact.

  • Bob,
    I think people have corrupted the meaning of transparency.

    Transparency isn’t you telling me what you had for breakfast. It is you telling me all the steps that you will take to get my special order to me.

    Transparency isn’t showing me your financial statements. It is being honest and up front about what something costs or your need to make a profit.

    Transparency isn’t bombarding me with too much information just for the sake of information. It is showing me the upside AND the downside of the product/service I’m thinking of buying.

    Transparency isn’t showing me all your flaws. It is admitting your mistake when you make one and showing me how you will fix it.

    Too many companies hear the word transparency and assign the wrong meaning to it.

    You’re absolutely correct that the customer only is concerned about what is in it for him or her. Transparency that leads to trust is what assures the customer that it is okay to do business with you and will lead to stronger bonds of loyalty (that will be quickly undone if the trust is ever broken).

    Transparency of Operations – why we do what we do – and Transparency of Honesty – what we truly believe/stand for – is what companies should be putting forth. (Not that learning all that other stuff about you wasn’t interesting:-)

  • Bob: I’m 21, and the only electronics I use more than once a month are a cell phone and laptop (I don’t have a regular phone). I definitely believe that modern attention deficiency is a major problem.

    I loved reading this list! I’m interested in you because I already believe that you’re a very competent writer, and that makes you an interesting human being in my mind. I suppose it’s a matter of association-because I respect you, I’m curious to know things about you.

    But transparency isn’t a great sales strategy for everyone-take Apple as an example. Apple’s brand focuses on being mysterious and exclusive. Transparency probably wouldn’t improve their sales or brand image!

  • Phil: What you say makes sense, yet the way it is practiced today by many successful Internet marketers, transparency is what YOU say it is not: a lot of personal detail about every aspect of their lives. Ali Brown, for instances, is constantly telling us about the new cars and shoes she buys, how successful she is, how smart and pretty and fun and fabulous all her members are, etc. It seems to work VERY well for her, even though you seem to be saying it does not.

  • I agree with Phil 100%.

    I will add that transparency is what got Oprah where she is today. Go figure.

  • I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  • A peek behind the curtain can be a good way to establish a connection with your readers.

    I’m an avid science fiction reader too, and I remember that you said somewhere that you once lived on East 81st Street in New York (so did I; we may have been neighbors!).

    However, that doesn’t mean I want to know what brand of toothpaste you use.

    I suppose the right approach is being “translucent.”

  • Jodi: your metaphor of “translucent” vs. transparent is accurate and true. Twitter uses violate it and give us true transparency; e.g., tweeting what they had for breakfast.

  • SP Gass: What a great blog. I may abandon the Luddite Club idea and just send them to your blog. Why duplicate what you have already done better?

  • Thanks a lot, Bob. I know it can be improved, but have just been working on it in my spare time.

    I enjoy reading your blog and website… they offer a lot of valuable information.

  • Phil W. gave an excellent description of what transparency is all about and how it’s not at all as characterized in the original post.

    All I would add is that real transparency is not a paradigm shift of focus from the customer to the marketer. Genuine transparency acknowledges and addresses the customer’s “needs, fears, concerns, problems, and desires” by showing that they can believe what you say and can trust you to deliver.

  • Bob,
    Sure, some people have had success by telling us too much information about themselves, but primarily when the product is themselves. They are trying to convey trust by showing that they are just an ordinary human being like the rest of us and not some corporate conglomerate.

    The problem comes in when the corporate conglomerates try to duplicate what an individual has found to be successful. It never works because the basic foundation and purpose of the transparency is different. it is the same as when a chain store tries to emulate what has been successful in an independent store. It doesn’t work the same because the business models are different.

    That is what has happened with Transparency. The purpose of the transparency – to build trust – hasn’t changed. The way to go about doing it, however, is different depending on the product or service you sell.

    In your business, transparency is in what you offer. It is in the details of yor contracts. It is in the setting of expectations with your clients. The more clear you make your expectations and define their expectations, the more transparent, and hence trustworthy, you will be.

    That, my friend, will never go out of style.

  • I like your SF website. Are you going to let people comment on your choices and reviews? ( A little tidbit. On the show Babylon 5, a charater is named Alfred Bester. The creator and writer,Joseph Michael Straczynski, of the show was reading The Stars My Destination.)

    Also try the short story The Cold Equations
    by Tom Godwin. One of the best short stories in sf.

  • Chick J: The Cold Equations belongs on the list, and I will add it. What a great story. I am building the SF site slowly and will add a feature allowing commentary at some point.

  • Hi Bob,

    These things about you are not boring. You know better than I do that you can take any bits of information and approach from various angles to make them interesting and humorous. We’re very much alike.

    I could take the same list about me and tell funny stories in the middle of an ad and make a few friends. On the other hand, the entire “transparancy” idea is misused. A little salt in dinner is flavoring. Too much is poison. So the same with the use of telling the world about oneself. But…I’m sure you knew that.

    Here’s something you don’t know. You can contact me any time you want help with your advertising agency and I’d be pleased to work with you.


  • Bob,

    Yeah; what you said…

    Are you my long lost twin or something?

    Okay seriously, YES create a site for folks like us and I will visit often (and probably buy stuff while I’m there) B/C I really, really relate to you.

    Never a doubt you are one of the best there is,


  • P.S.

    I forgot to answer your questions —

    You: Is this list as boring to you as it is to me?
    Me: No

    You: Are these things you really want to know?
    Me: I didn’t know I wanted to know them until I read what you had to say and then yes, I wanted to know.

    You: If so, for heaven’s sake why?
    Me: B/C you are funny and what I consider “real,” and Lord knows we need more funny in this world.

  • Sorry, Bob, but I don’t get it. Even more confusing for me is the replies to the stuff I don’t get. Maybe I missed that day in school.

  • Hey Bob,

    I didn’t find the list boring at all. In fact, I read with pleasure – especially point #13. I have no idea why I want to know these things about you but I do. I often read only a few points in a list post. But I read each of the 15 points about you with interest. I think it just goes to show using “transparency” in the right way can be effective. Of course, if I’d never heard of you or benefited from your work before (I’ve bought a hand-full of your ebooks) I probably wouldn’t be as interested.

    As for Joe V. I often find his pitches too “Joe centric” which, frankly, turns me off. I end up just looking at a few pictures in his promotions then clicking away. So there has to be the right balance. Tell me what I get then I’m happy to hear about the person from whom I get it.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Bob,

    The question at the end of your list implies that either the reader is bored, or is interested in the facts that you have presented.

    I think the answer may be neither. Sometimes, people just want a story. Many years ago, Louise Rosenblatt, a noted literary scholar who studied reader behavior, cited two motives for reading: information and experience. What you’ve presented above fits the latter because it tells your story.

    That this is boring to you is not surprising. The most essential elements of Bob Bly are those that you carry with you day and night.

    Does this list provide transparency? I think that depends on what readers are looking for. If they were looking at your qualifications to write, say, a direct mail piece, I would say the list wouldn’t reveal much of interest. But if they were interested in assessing the cultural fit between Bob Bly and their organization, the list could be useful.

    To me, transparency means the writer makes a reasonable effort to disclose everything that it’s in the reader’s best interest to know.

  • Bob, I really enjoyed this article. I think that some visibility into your personal life is almost expected these days with all of us voluntarily giving up our personal privacy through the mediums of Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    Personally I enjoyed learning more about one of my writing mentors. Thanks for sharing. We are alike in some ways, different in others.

  • Bob —

    Ironic. I began agreeing 100% with your premise, that readers/ customers aren’t interested in *us* but in how we can help them. Then I found myself enjoying and interested in your personal revelations (albeit some more than others).

    My theory: I think it’s because your readers feel we already “know” you to some extent. If a complete stranger revealed these same facts about themselves, we’d think, “Who cares? And what an egomaniac to think we’d be the slightest bit interested.”

    Anyone agree?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *