Rather than engaging, inspiring, and motivating the British public in the recent General Election, Theresa May repeatedly failed to live up to her constant assertion of being ‘strong and stable’. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, avoided talking in soundbites. In interviews, his comments were considered, often rambling and inconclusive, rather than sharp and to-the-point. No glitzy press conferences, carefully crafted media appearances or expert makeovers for him. Instead, he continued to behave more or less exactly as he has done so as an MP for more than three decades.
It might have been a hung parliament, but in the race for authenticity, Jeremy Corbyn came out miles ahead.
For brands, just as for politicians, ‘being yourself’, knowing who you are and speaking from that place in all communications, can result in better connections with customers, and almost always increase retention.
Study after study proves that customers prefer brands they perceive to be authentic and honest. A 2016 study from global PR firm, Cohn & Wolfe, found that almost nine out of ten consumers worldwide would reward brands for perceived authenticity by:
- Recommending the brand to others: 52%
- Pledging loyalty to a brand: 49%
- Valuing a brand: 48%
- Wanting to work for the company: 20%
- Investing in the company: 20%
The irony, of course, is that marketing, by its very nature, isn’t authentic. Some regard it as being all about ‘smoke and mirrors’ in an attempt to showcase a brand’s product and service in the most attractive light possible. However digital is changing the way consumers around the world interact with companies. Scepticism about what brands say and do is much higher than before. Fake news is everywhere, and people are more aware than ever that what they’re reading or hearing may not actually be true. To put it bluntly, consumers just aren’t ‘buying’ brand stories in the same, uncomplicated way they did in years past. They demand more information and clarity, they yearn for a more honest and open relationship with brands, and – above all – they hate being lied to. Brands must therefore embrace the ‘Age of Authenticity’ or risk being left behind.
The thing today’s winning brands – Levi’s, Adidas, Nike, Disney, BMW, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple – have in common? They strive to keep it ‘real’, fostering trust and inspiring brand loyalty by consistently communicating ‘authentically’ with customers. Follow their lead. Here are seven ways to infuse authenticity into your brand:
1. Stay true to what you’re about
All your messaging should support the company strategy, goals and objectives. It’s not enough to say, “our brand is the best” or “our employees are our top priority”; you have to be able to back it up with credible, and consistent proof.
2. Know your audience
It is more vital than ever to know your audience and speak to them directly and individually. The more you know your current customer base, the more you can predict the needs and wants of clients in the future and how to communicate with them authentically and authoritatively. Leverage consumer data and demographics to create truthful messages that will resonate with them, based on their core values and frames of reference.
3. Be a good listener
One of the greatest qualities of an authentic individual is their ability to listen, and in a recent survey, more than 50% of consumers said they’re likely to abandon a brand if the feedback they leave in-app goes unacknowledged. When you show people that you care about what they want, it not only boosts loyalty, but offers a human element to the brand experience, too.
4. Work on cultivating your workplace culture
Your internal brand needs to align with your external image. Customers are attracted to an authentic experience, and so are employees. If you’re always pushing for something that doesn’t have a bigger purpose to it, then it will be really hard to get people to manufacture a love for what they’re doing.
5. Develop a genuine voice
When developing messages for the CEO, or other executives, they must be delivered in their individual voice and style. Using words and phrases employees know a leader would never say will negatively impact credibility; it isn’t authentic if people know it didn’t come from the CEO.
6. Make sure someone has your back
Most brands will face at least one communications crisis. Consider the United Airlines fiasco; not only was the brand seemingly ill-prepared to handle backlash from dragging a passenger off a flight, but within 24 hours, it had released two confusing, conflicting statements, making United much harder to trust. Taking the time to build an authentic foundation and a community of brand ambassadors will help establish and maintain this authenticity, even in crises.
7. Admit your mistakes
In today’s social media-driven world, news – especially bad – spreads fast. It’s all too easy to let the message get out of control without being able to shut it down on your terms. Admitting you made a mistake builds credibility, shows respect for the consumer and demonstrates humility. And when customers feel like they are kept in the loop, they’re likely to be forgiving, too.