There’s a lot of buzz out there on keeping marketing communications authentic. But what exactly does that mean? It’s easy to spot when a brand is inauthentic – looking at you, Pepsi – but authentic communications are harder to define.
A simple Google search of the word authentic generates the following result from Merriam Webster: authentic: (adj.) worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact; not false or imitation; real; true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.
Using the definition above as our guide, let’s explore how brands can ensure they remain authentic in their communications:
- Worthy of acceptance or belief based on fact. For a brand’s communications to be worthy of acceptance or belief, trust must first be established. One of the best, most public examples of a brand failing to do so is Volkswagen. In 2015, Volkswagen was caught selling cars and claiming their diesel fuel emissions were “clean” when in fact they weren’t. Volkswagen was cheating on emissions tests by using a “defeat device.” “Dieselgate”, as the scandal was named, turned out to be a total disaster for the brand. It cost them billions of dollars, for sure – but it also compromised the trust of their consumers. The lesson here is that it’s always best to tell the truth.
- Not false or imitation. This one is obvious. We’ve all seen those ads for products and services that seem to be too good to be true – and in most cases, they are. Think of the fitness brand that claims consumers can expect to see a 25-lb weight loss in eight weeks. If that’s not actually what customers experience, the brand will quickly lose followers and public support. Steer clear of exaggerating the benefits of your brand, or worse, communicating false or unsubstantiated information. Again, we’re looking at the trust factor here. False promises are never a good marketing strategy.
- Real. This is the equivalent of “keeping it real” in your brand’s communications. This can range from a small issue – a restaurant closing for a day due to a kitchen equipment failure, for example – to a major crisis like the Wells Fargo scandal. In either case, once the issue is identified it’s critical to be honest about it. The worst thing a brand can do during a crisis is to remain silent or avoid the problem – transparency is key. It’s human to make mistakes, and no company is immune to crises. However, these situations must be handled delicately with a proper and sincere apology, and a response protocol in order to reestablish trust.
- True to one’s own personality or character. Branding effectively means knowing who you are and staying true to that – not changing just for the sake of change or keeping up with the Joneses. You have to start with one basic question: who are you as a brand? You also need to consider what your customers want to hear from you. Wendy’s does a great job of this – their Twitter tone is snarky, and they’re not afraid to call out the competition. Keep in mind that not all brands can be Wendy’s, though – if snarky isn’t who you are, then don’t go there. Again, people are very perceptive of inauthenticity. A wholesome family brand that suddenly markets itself as edgy and controversial just to create a publicity stir will not only create confusion in the marketplace, but also probably lose its audience. Consistency in communication is key. Brands must always evolve, to be sure, but they must also stay true to their roots.
Why is authenticity so important? You might have noticed a theme above – it all boils down to trust. Well-established brands that stand the test of time have successfully garnered a following of consumers that truly believe in them. They believe these brands will do the right thing and follow through on their promises. Even when these brands make mistakes, as we all do, their loyal followers trust them to make things right.
Keeping it real in your brand’s communication is critical to maintaining this trust. It’s important to remember that the next time a flashy marketing idea is brought to the table – creating buzz or controversy for a quick boost in awareness or sales is never a good idea. Neither is hiding the facts from your audience. Being honest, transparent and consistent will ensure your customers will continue to rely on your brand.