The centrality of ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the corporate marketing perspective serves as a point of differentiation for the field within the broader marketing discipline. Currently, there is a lack of clarity around the ‘transparency’ construct, which is an integral if ill-defined dimension of ethics and CSR in marketing. A shared understanding of the transparency construct is thus a significant gap within corporate marketing theory. Addressing that gap is the purpose of this paper.
The approach in this paper is conceptual. In developing a detailed definition of transparency, the paper draws on core papers in corporate marketing theory as well as organisational transparency.
Rawlins’ (2009) multi-layered definition of the transparency construct is identified as appropriate for adoption in the corporate marketing context. Each of the six layers of his definition is analysed to understand what is implied and what the application of the construct means for corporate marketing practice. The implications are that the application of transparency in corporate marketing requires that a positive and proactive approach to information-sharing is adopted; the default position is to share information with stakeholders; both good and bad news are shared; the criteria – accuracy, timeliness, balance and unequivocality – are applied to all information prior to releases; an organisation commits to empowering stakeholders; and there is recognition of an obligation to account to stakeholders.
The paper is conceptual in nature and does not apply the definition of the transparency construct to empirical data. It is likely that empirical research will lead to further refinements and amendments. The paper should therefore be considered as a starting point for this empirical work.
The paper provides a detailed definition of the transparency construct, which includes a discussion of what the application of the transparency construct implies and what it means for the practice of corporate marketing. The definition and its practical application are summarised in table form as a guide for both researchers and practitioners of corporate marketing. The table may serve as a guide for evaluating current organisational performance and for embedding transparency in corporate marketing practice.
This study appears to be the first paper to address the gap in the corporate marketing literature in relation to the transparency construct. This conceptual paper therefore provides a foundation for further empirical research into the application of the transparency construct in corporate marketing.
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