August 28, 2018 • Paul Woolf
The pursuit of authenticity has become an obsession for many brands in their marketing efforts. Stackla’s survey of 2,000 adults in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia found that a staggering 86 percent of those polled say authenticity is important in determining which brands they like and support. Yet a majority of those surveyed believe that less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic, and they’re three times more likely to deem content created by another consumer as authentic vs. content created by a brand.
In short, brands are fishing for customers with the lure of authenticity. Customers are wise to it and ignoring the bait.
What can brands do to come across as more authentic? How can they improve the perception of their authenticity so customers see them as “the real deal”? Here are a few pointers:
The ancient Delphic maxim “know thyself” is worth remembering when pursuing authenticity. Being untruthful about your brand or company, especially in an era where critics are only a social post away from exposing you, is hazardous and stupid. Being truthful, however, is not only about what you say but also how you say it. In marketing and sales, we’re accustomed to hyperbole. British Airways’ slogan in the 1990s stated that it was the “world’s favourite airline” based on the contention that it flew more people to more destinations than any other airline. Ignore the fact that it was the only option for reaching many destinations. Ignore the fact that there was no global survey of all travelers to back it up.
It was a simple correlation: More people fly you to more places, so you must be the most favored. Today, you’d need the data and an independent source to back it up. And even then, you’d be open prey for competitors and critics to knock you out of the sky by finding areas where you clearly were not a favorite, such as when BA started charging for in-flight meals.
The key is simple. Stick to the truth, and avoid the hyperbole. Customers who value authenticity also shun baloney and seek only authentic content from brands they trust.
Most customers are interested in learning about your backstory, not dry facts or dates. Don’t make your history and heritage boring! Customers want to know the human side of what made your company or brand what it is today. Seeing Henry Ford’s signature or old photos of Henry palling around with Thomas Edison is cool, but what matters more in Ford’s case is the story behind the man. Making a founder or pioneer relatable gives depth to the story in a way that pictures cannot convey.
Spirits brands such as Johnnie Walker can usually tell a compelling tale using video or simply a bottle neck leaflet highlighting heritage or their various awards. Ask yourself when you review the content you’re about to blast: Is it interesting to my audience? Is it educational or intriguing or hilarious or insightful, or whatever other quality needed so that it’s memorable and sharable? With trust in brands decreasing, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, quality over quantity is vital.
One of the most successful Twitter campaigns of 2017 involved MoonPie, as noted in this post. The reason MoonPie won new followers after a Twitter dustup with Hostess over the “sponsorship” of the solar eclipse was MoonPie’s timely and entirely relatable response: “lol, okay.” It’s like MoonPie was saying “no one really sponsors an eclipse, but that’s how big brands operate even though our name suggests that we’re more associated with this event than you.” Except they didn’t say that, which would have been just another largely forgotten corporate tweet (though largely justified).
By taking the audience’s side, joining them as skeptics, and keeping it human, MoonPie won. The lesson here? When seeking authenticity, make sure your brand is relatable. Talk the way they talk, respond how you think they’d respond to ideas or events, walk a mile in their shoes, and you’ll start to understand how to relate on their terms—not yours.
This is not a repeat of the first point, which is about what you say. This point is about being true to your brand essence and purpose—why you exist. Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger is more likely to remind us that Frosted Flakes taste “greeeeaaaat” than he is to weigh in on politics. Avoid venturing into unrelated topic areas unless your brand was built on that stance. REI, for example, can easily talk about sustainability and environmental issues, as we highlighted back in February. But it would be out of its depth on criminal justice reform or urban housing. Being true to your brand purpose, usually articulated by your founder or in your early years, is about being consistent in the eyes of your audience. Brands that stay true to their core essence are more likely to be seen as authentic.
One aspect of authenticity that’s critical is delivery of your product or service, as promised or better than promised. Whatever brownie points have accumulated through careful brand stewardship can be quickly lost if the brand fails to deliver on what it promised. The most authentic beer in the world, brewed with the finest hops and with a great backstory, would fall flat (pun intended) if it tastes horrible. Authenticity? Yes. Authenticity and positivity? No.
Some brands find that growth and success built on authenticity can bring change that undermines that authenticity. Take the case of Cacique, founded in the 1970s as an authentic Hispanic brand known for its handmade, small-batch cheeses. Cacique is now #1 for Hispanic cheese, crema and chorizo. Naturally, as it grew, automation challenged the “handmade” claim. Does that mean the brand is less authentic? No, as this interview with COO Gil de Cardenas reveals. Cacique kepts its eye on the ball where quality was concerned. Cardenas’ father, who founded Cacique, pushed a “make it better, not cheaper” mentality that continues to resonate with consumers and distributors. This mentality makes Cacique a truly authentic brand.
Pursuing authenticity successfully requires a few components. It requires honesty, with an absence of spin. It requires the ability to tell a compelling narrative that’s consistent yet memorable. It requires relating on terms your audience understands, and adopting a tone and voice in how you communicate that resonates. It requires being true to who you are, and why your brand or company came into existence. And it requires that you deliver or over-deliver on your promises. How can you bring all of this together? What’s the magic ingredient?
It’s simple. Authentic content. Learn more about it here.