Authenticity is something that more brands are starting to incorporate into their marketing strategies. For a long time, online marketing was about getting more content online, looking at analytics, and using data driven strategies to drive traffic. This is still important, but Google’s ever more intelligent algorithms are reining in marketing tactics to the core of a brand, its personality, and what it has to offer to the people.
Long before marketing became a concept, Medieval Latin had the word “authenticus” and Greek “authentikos” for original, genuine, or authentic. The meaning of authentic is pervasive in our society. People look for genuine leather and pin only authentic Mexican dishes to their Pinterest boards. They look for original personalities in the people with whom they share friendships. Unfortunately, convenience and “the end justifies the means” mentalities have largely warped what it means for a brand to be authentic.
Authenticity gives your brand personality, which is vital in any market. Buying a product one time may not mean much to a consumer, but if that person can identify with the brand, its values and mission, then they are buying much more than a product – they are buying a belief.
Chick-fil-A has been under fire in the past for holding strong opinions and beliefs. Regardless of an individual’s reaction to Chick-fil-A’s stance, the company has garnered fierce brand loyalty. Their customer base will rally behind the brand faster than they would any other fast food chain because they identify with the branding or support the company’s right to brand itself authentically.
Apple is the quintessential branding example for loyalty and authenticity. The company has always been at the forefront of design and continually pushes the limits of technology. You will never see the company compromise its mission of providing intuitive technology at the top of its class to innovators, industry pioneers, and the younger generations. The Apple brand is so large that there are customers who will only use Apple products. Conversely, there are consumers who will never buy an Apple product on principle – and that’s okay. Only a company that is strong enough in its own identity can accept that division in the consumer base, and continue to thrive on producing an authentic brand.
Cartoon from Tom Fishburne Marketoonist
Building Blocks of Authenticity
The New York Times cites quality, sincerity, and brand history as three governing principles in conveying authenticity.
Quality relies on presenting aspects of materials that represent value in the consumers’ eyes. Conveying this in branding is becoming more difficult, however. Many brands use buzzwords like “green,” “genuine,” “authentic,” and “made in the USA” without providing any real support for those claims. Recently, a case was brought against Made in the USA Brand, LLC by the FTC for selling the branding mark to any company for a certain price. Quality may be best conveyed through showing, not telling, and certainly not through the overuse of buzzwords.
Sincerity goes hand in hand with quality. It also is part of building brand reputation. If your product does not live up to its branding, it’s becoming harder to fly under the radar without being criticized. Instead of wiping away social media complaints, companies should always address problems head on.
Brand history is the branding opportunity that marketers can really leverage to create an authentic message. Those who focus on stories told in journalistic style and not romanticized have the best opportunity to come across authentically. Even new brands have history. Be a reporter, dig in, and find what makes a company’s birth unique.
Can Authenticity Be Taught?
The concept of authenticity is hazy and intangible. It’s something you understand when you see it, and it can only be developed by fully understanding a brand. Marketers, contractors, and outsourcing professionals who want to reflect authenticity in their work for a company that is not their own need to develop a strong sense of empathy.
The more you can immerse yourself in a business’ persona, the better your website, advertising, and Google rankings will become. If you’ve ever noticed your personality and feelings change around certain people, then you understand what is meant by “empathy.” It’s your innate ability to understand and feel what another person is going through, and it is supremely valuable for marketers trying to convey an authentic message. It will influence the way you look at every marketing project moving forward.
Conversely, if you can’t empathize with a company’s values, mission, and culture, you’re likely not well suited to the job of marketing them authentically. It probably also means that you don’t like your job.
For marketers, projecting authenticity can be difficult. You may not have the opportunity to develop a full understanding before you begin to work. That’s where a well-designed website, customer reviews, other resources, and empathy come into play. Read through everything you can find. Read to understand; don’t read to retain facts and figures. You’ll naturally start to pick up on the brand’s personality if the content is authentic.
Authenticity is Forbes’ number 1 trend that marketers should budget for in 2015. That means companies can no longer afford to push aside building valuable and meaningful campaigns.
Authenticity is built on honesty (sincerity), quality (brand reputation), and history (your story through your voice).
Empathy can be a very powerful trait/skill for marketing professionals to develop to naturally project authenticity in work.
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