Authenticity. It’s everywhere these days, yet hard to actually find. Everyone seems to be talking about being their “authentic self” and staying true to an authentic voice, whether personally or in branding. But what does that mean? How do we really show our authentic selves to millions of people on the internet? Even if we get past the idea of a perfectly curated Instagram feed or surgically clever Twitter musings and show some real humanity, representing ourselves in a real way is a complex task. It’s especially daunting as a brand, when many brands don’t even have a solid understanding of “who” they are.
A brand’s persona, or voice, is key to how it interacts with the rest of the world. It sets your brand apart from the competition by communicating its values, culture, and unique traits. It allows consumers to connect to your brand by humanizing it, and making it identifiable. Determining a real, authentic brand persona is difficult for many brands, since it can be hard to see the forest when you’re in the trees (and often digging down in the dirt) every day. It’s not something that’s produced, it’s something that has to be discovered and refined as a product of brand values. And after you do all the hard work of figuring out who you are, there’s an equally hard task of making sure you stay true to that brand voice.
In advertising, authenticity is paramount. Consumers inherently don’t trust ads. They’re also more in control than ever of how they interact with and consume content, including ads. Advertising is nothing without the consumer’s willingness to communicate with your brand, so ads have to be relevant to the content the consumer is experiencing, and have a genuine message that resonates with the consumer.
That message should explain why a business or company exists. And no, “to make money” is not a valid answer. Of course you want your business to make money, but what is the reason your brand exists? The answer to that question requires honesty and communication so that the consumer understands. A brand that illustrates this beautifully is TOMS shoes. They use that answer as the foundation for their existence. The tagline, “One for one,” means that for every pair TOMS purchased gives a pair of shoes to someone in need. In addition to shoes, they provide sight, water, safe birth and bullying prevention services to people in need. TOMS’ message is that they improve lives, and because they show how they do that (there’s an entire section of their website devoted to details about giving), they build trust. You don't have to be saving the world with your business, but maybe making people happy with amazing customer service is the reason it exists. With all the choices consumers have, they’re now asking themselves where they should spend their money. If that question can be answered by an authentic reason, then you’ve built the trust of that customer.
The communication of a brand message starts way before a consumer (whether as an individual or business representative) comes in contact with an ad. From a brand’s advertising campaign, social media presence, customer service to in-store experience, an authentic voice is built and supported. If the core of your business message is unparalleled customer service, people want to see it, not just hear it. Social media accounts need to acknowledge customer raves, and respond to customer rants (either founded or unfounded). Millennials especially expect and value the kind of intimacy that comes with social media interaction. 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. They expect brands to not only show up on social networks, but to engage personally with them.
In addition, all representatives of the company have to uphold that customer service brand pillar, from phone conversations to in-person interactions, no matter how small.
Then the website and marketing collateral need to be customer-friendly, through ease of use and consumer-friendly copy that shows your audience why you’ll provide the best customer service. If a customer can’t easily navigate your site, or see why they should even want to, you’ve lost them before you have a chance to show them how amazing you are.
In short, it’s not easy to build authenticity. If it were, it wouldn’t be so important and often elusive. There are many areas to consider, and many points of interaction in which there’s an opportunity to fail. But with great effort comes great return, and an authentic brand builds happy, loyal customers. It may seem overwhelming to put all this energy into representing a brand voice and not knowing if it will resonate with customers, but if we stay true to ourselves (arguably both in life and in business), people will appreciate it and be drawn to it. As accomplished fashion designer Zac Posen says, “Don't worry about what's cool and what's not cool. Authenticity is what's cool.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.