Consumers are increasingly rewarding companies for transparency when they make buying decisions, claims a new global study released today.

Cohn & Wolfe's ‘From Transparency to Full Disclosure’ report, which polled 3,000 adults across the UK, USA and China, also reveals which brands are rated most highly for transparency in each of the three markets.

The study finds that more than two thirds of consumers in the US, UK and China rate ‘honesty and transparency’ alongside price and quality when considering to buy a product or brand.

In the UK and USA, honesty was voted the third most important factor after price and quality. In China, honesty was considered more important than price – only surpassed by product quality as a key factor.

The results come as numerous media revelations damage brand reputations, putting companies on the backfoot when evaluating their existing issues management approach. In China, for example, a number of food producers have faced safety scandals, while in the US and UK, banks have borne the brunt of the backlash against perceived unethical behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, more than a third of those polled think that companies only disclose what they need to for legal reasons and over a fifth think companies only divulge the information that portrays the business in the best light. Underlining this mistrust, nearly one in six of consumers think big businesses deliberately lack transparency and honesty in order to make more money.

Rather more surprisingly, Apple is rated as most transparent company by US consumers, despite the company's well-documented supply chain issues. In general, technology brands perform well in the US, with Microsoft, Amazon and Google all featuring in the top ten.

In China, similarly, tech brands dominate the ranking, with Haier, Lenove and Huawei taking the first three spots.

UK consumers, however, believe that 'everyday' brands are the most honest. M&S leads a ranking that also features The Co-operative, John Lewis and Tesco.

“ Many of these companies, such as Marks & Spencer, The Co-operative and John Lewis, bring with them a general feel good feeling," said Independent and London Evening Standard financial editor Anthony Hilton, whom the report quotes.

"Due to the strength and longevity of the brand, they may appear transparent but that doesn’t mean they have not, or will not, be embroiled in supplier, staff or
financial issues."

The report concludes that "consumers are now more informed about business issues, more demanding of businesses’ values and, crucially, more disillusioned with businesses’ behaviour than ever before."

“The key insight for major brands is clear: embrace transparency and openness like never before, and consumers will reward you for it," explains Cohn & Wolfe global corporate head Geoff Beattie. "Conversely, they may well vote with their wallets if you don’t.”

“Even if a company is sitting on information which may cause negative public reactions in the short run, it is better to be open with consumers and admit failings where they occur. The public will forgive you for mistakes, but not for covering them up.”