Customers are on to you. Try to fool them into thinking your brand is something it isn’t and they won’t hesitate to walk. Worse, their previous advocacy might become a Hollywood exit – they’ll trash your brand on Twitter in the social media equivalent of knocking over tables and spilling drinks on the way out.
But when a brand is true to itself, it’ll serve its customers well – authenticity is the new north star of marketing.
It’s that cringe-inducing moment – a teenager’s dad tries to use popular slang around her friends; grandma replies ‘LOL’ to a Facebook post of sad news, thinking it mean ‘lots of love’. A teacher attempts a pop-culture reference to a show they’ve never seen.
It’s easy to laugh when this stuff happens in our personal lives. But when the equivalent happens in brand marketing, there’s no faster way to alienate customers.
In the age of the customer, authenticity is crucial. Consumers understand they’re being marketed to, and in more sophisticated ways than ever before. Rather than tolerating marketing’s presence, they have high expectations of it helping them with tailored, personalised, relevant messages. Many are well aware of personas and how organisations target based on common characteristics.
This creates a tight balancing act for marketers. On the one hand, what was once their ‘magic’ now happens in plainer sight – anyone can see, for example, the data social platforms hold to enable advertisers to target them, or the locations of a Facebook business page’s administrators and the range of ads they are running at any point in time. On the other, advertisers still need to perform these ‘magic’ tricks, to reach those audiences on the right channel, with the right message, at the right time.
No matter how much data and analysis is fuelling an interaction, the brand must speak to the individual in a way that comes across as natural and friendly. And when a brand tries too hard, it can damage trust in just a few false moves.
If the marketing team communicates in opposition to established brand voice, tone and style, or contradicts the brand’s values and messages, customers are quick to relay their reactions to friends and family. Add social media to the mix, and those mistakes get quickly amplified.
Even for marketers that are successfully managing that balancing act, authenticity is tough to measure. Start by looking at your branding and messaging through your customers’ eyes, rather than your own priorities. What do you want them to think and feel? Then, with some help from these dos and don’ts, start reminding everyone who you really are:
Most companies have an origin story and a mission statement on their website, but that’s not the only place it should live. Create boilerplate versions of this at different lengths, and ensure everyone who communicates – across any function – has access to them and understands how to use them.
The text here should be meaningful, but it doesn’t have to stop at the written word. Use videos that reinforce your identity to customers. Use a standard intro about your company’s sense of purpose in the opening seconds of a podcast. This should become as memorable as your logo to your audience.
Emojis in email campaigns? Sure, as long as they don’t clutter up the subject line, or introduce a visual element that doesn’t have anything to do with the text. Hire a rapper for your customer event? It can depend on whether that artist is aligned with your brand’s values and your customers’ interests, and whether the event needs musical entertainment at all. Funny cat videos? Hmmm. Unless you’re in pet-care, maybe create videos that focus more on the customers interests and problems that relate to what you offer instead.
Digital media includes all kinds of ways for organisations to stand out, but think about what happens after the customer has noticed you. If they turn to the core message and it’s unrelated to what attracted their interest, or isn’t compelling or meaningful to them, they’ll just feel cheated, no matter how clever your opening salvo.
Let’s say you want to try marketing through Instagram for the first time. It can be a great channel, but marketing primarily through images might be new territory, and the expectations of Instagram audiences can clash with corporate brand guidelines.
Marketing on Instagram could come off as too stuffy and corporate for Instagram, or too fluffy for your brand. Be upfront with your senior team about why you see a channel like that as valuable to your audience and for your marketing strategy, and that you’re experimenting as you go.
In fact, why not try asking customers for comments and suggestions about what they’d like to see from you on a channel like Instagram? Show the behind-the-scenes of a photo or video shoot that lets them understand the effort you’re putting in to telling them relevant stories.
We all create some content that falls flat occasionally. Be prepared to own up to mistakes, laugh at them along with your audience and show you’ve learned next time around.
It sounds obvious, but there are plenty of examples of where companies will talk about values that they don’t really stand behind. This could include firms that offer platitudes about the environment but create a lot of internal waste, or who tout the importance of diversity and inclusion but have an all-male board of directors. Walk your talk.
Customers often pay more attention to brands than companies realise. Make sure if you’re marketing around a cause or anything else that will deeply matter to your customers you can back it up with proof. Invest in your local community or encourage staff to donate volunteer hours to a charity or non-profit.
Even when marketing materials are well-produced, customers might ask, “But do they really know what it’s like to be me?”. Let your customers answer this question – share their stories of success, told in their voices.
This is where case studies and testimonials can be key to a brand’s identity, because it means you’re putting customers first and not letting your own brand get in the way. You can do the same thing by featuring customers in interviews via videos and podcasts, and giving them the stage at live events.
Successful marketing demands an innovative and creative approach to getting on the same page as your customers. Do it with a light and authentic touch, and to thine own brand be true.
For more insights and trends, download the fifth edition State of Marketing report.