When I was growing up, I remember my highlight about watching TV was not the movies or sitcoms, but the commercials. Back then, the commercials were still entertaining to me, it was more than just mere infomercials.
Image credit: jacqueline macou from Pixabay.
It made me fall in love with these grand and beautiful brands or whatever the advertisements portrayed them as – truly believing that these brands are honourable and professional.
However, that excitement soon disappeared as I realised these brands weren’t what it was portrayed to be in those commercials. As a media and communications professional, I dissected the authenticity of these companies’ brand messages, more so than someone who is not in this field – which made me even more despondent about this realisation.
It also made me realise the important role that marketers play. How do you portray an authentic brand that will live up to its brand message at every touchpoint? How do you as a marketer tell a compelling story about the brand that you represent, but you have a team that is walking in the opposite direction of the message you are trying to convey? Do you stop all your marketing efforts because you have no compelling story to tell?
This brings me to the question of authenticity. Authenticity has become one of the latest bandwagons that every marketer is jumping on. Authenticity gave the consumer the power to distinguish between honest brands and those that are not.
However, this isn’t an option anymore, because big brands with a big cash flow can buy anything, even authenticity or, at least, the perception of it. Therefore, consumers won’t know the difference until they have signed a contract, paid for the service and experienced the service (or lack thereof). Then the poor consumer, who is already facing the difficulties of a tough economic climate will struggle to get themselves out of a contract they initially felt proud signing.
My advice to all marketers is this. Tell a truly authentic message, where you won’t be shooting yourself in the foot a few months down the line. Yes, you get the short-term payoff, but the long-term damage to your brand is irreparable.
One bad experience with a brand is enough for a customer to turn away and never use your service again and tell ten of their friends to tell the rest of their friends what you did to them. With all the competition out there, you can’t afford to lose even one customer.
I provide ways that brands can market authentically without buying authenticity:
Own your mistakes, they are valuable, more than you think
Your story may not all be good, there may be things that you don’t want to be revealed but, believe it or not, all brands have done things they should not be proud of. There is nothing more refreshing than talking to a friend who is real about their flaws, they become relatable.
You want to listen to them because in a world where everyone wants to tell the good story, it’s refreshing to hear the true story. When that same friend later tells you something positive or amazing that happened to them, you believe them, you get excited with them because you know where they come from.
You’re proud of them because, despite their mistakes, they are improving and doing things differently. I refer to a friend because this is how people build relationships with brands – it’s like a human connection.
Speak to the right audience, the audiences who relate to your brand
If you are materialistic and like to be labelled VIP and VVIP, seen at exclusive events, then that is who you are. If you are a bit arrogant and obtrusive as a brand, then be that. Some people who like that, and those people are your audience.
Speak to your audience, not the audience you wish you had. For example, just because everyone is doing CSI (corporate social investment), doesn’t mean you have to. People know when you truly care and when you don’t. No amount of money you throw at this will make you look authentic. Pay your monthly donation, but don’t go big on marketing those efforts.
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The mistake most marketers make when it comes to communicating authentically, is that they perceive their brand as an object. Your audience views your brand as a living, breathing person. They don’t want to see perfection, they want to see a human.
Humans are imperfect, they say and do the wrong things. Your audience knows this, they just want to know that you will make it right and fast. They want to know that you won’t make promises you can’t keep and, if you did, you’ll acknowledge it and never do it again.
To market authentically, you must treat your brand like a person who is constantly evolving. As a marketer, ask yourself who you were 10 years ago and who you are now. I bet you’ve changed massively. No one stays the same.
Our experiences and knowledge change our thoughts and the way we look at things. Marketers are torn between selling and inspiring, telling a true story or a good one.
Authentic marketing becomes dependent on having a story that is both a good story and a true story. Providing a good, compelling story lies solely with the leadership of every company, they need to develop the kind of story that their team can be proud to share.
The same way that the advertiser is not to blame for the finished product they received and the creative team for the production they made based on the brief from the marketer, the marketer is not to blame for all the inner workings of a company which includes, finance, human resources, production and client services.
The marketer is not responsible for leading those teams. Authentic marketing is the responsibility of every department in a company and those departments are the sole responsibility of the CEO or managing director within that company. Therefore, leaders must get their house in order so that marketers can communicate authentically to their audience.
Jennilee Peremore-Oliver is a Communications Consultant, and Owner/CEO or Jenniemore (Pty) Ltd, a Communications Consultancy based in East London, South Africa. She has a Master's Degree in Applied Media, a Bachelor's Degree in Media, Communication and Culture, and a professional certificate in Management from the Nelson Mandela University Business School. She is an award-winning PR practitioner who has been working in the industry since 2009. You can follow Jennilee on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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