We live in a world where consumers are starving for authenticity. Meanwhile, businesses continue to serve up homogenous content and brands. Why? To play it safe and fit in with the competition. To inspire and prosper, businesses need to come out of the shadows and reveal their true authentic selves.
Being authentic means staying true to who you are, what you do and who you serve. And it begins with self-awareness: knowing who you are — your values, emotions and competencies.
I literally laughed out loud when I saw a promotional poster at Holt Renfrew recently that stated: Be who you are. “Wow, that’s deep,” I thought in sarcastic fashion, likely due to the teen models’ attempts at Zoolander’s infamous ‘Blue Steele’ pose. But, putting the strenuous ‘I can’t breathe’ squints and pouty lips aside, the message itself is actually quite meaningful.
By being true to ourselves, we can work with purpose and be optimistic. We can reach our greatest potential and experience happiness and fulfillment.
People are tired of packaged and programmed plastic, explained American Creative Director Davar Azarbeygui. “There’s a profound thirst for storytelling, transparency and honesty,” he said. “Meanwhile, we see so many organizations churning out rebrands, and posting their identities on social media for people to rate and critique. That’s not being true to yourself.”
The more virtual our lives get, the more we hunger after something genuine. People, especially millennials, don’t want to be ‘sold to’. We want to align ourselves with like-minded brands that share our passion, vision and inspiration.
Millennials see right through marketing mumbo jumbo, suggested Azarbeygui, citing the beer industry as an example. “Millennials are bored and tired of big companies like Budweiser and Coors selling them the same fake messages and visuals of Mustang horses riding in the snow,” he said. “Those cliche ads are meant for their fathers and grandfathers.” Meanwhile, the craft beer industry is booming and putting a huge dent in the big retail beer brands’ marketshare with real stories of entrepreneurs, grit and perseverance.
Plenty of Perks
Authenticity can significantly impact a bottom line. In a global study involving more than 12,000 consumers in 14 different markets, Cohn & Wolfe ranked companies by their authenticity, and many of the top 100 listed are amongst the most successful companies around the globe.
The top 10 brands on The Global Authentic 100
It’s good business to take a page from these leading brands and be real. The benefits are many:
- Add substance to your business, services and products
- Build your identity and image into something influential
- Help people relate to and trust your business
- Nurture loyalty and create advocates
Be True to Yourself, and Your Audience
Always listen to your conscience. That quiet, persistent voice that speaks to your intuition, telling you what is right — or wrong — for you and your business.
Don’t confuse this with something that feels uncomfortable, which can actually be a good thing. Discomfort can be a sign that you’re pushing past boundaries — an essential act for growth. However, if something feels wrong, chances are it probably conflicts with your personal values.
As a copywriter and marketer, I experienced this feeling of ‘wrongness’ some months ago. A respected inbound marketer and friend, who consults the likes of Disney, suggested I “ramp up” our article frequency to several times a week to gain online presence.
We’re a small content writing agency, so we don’t have the resources to churn out quality articles on a daily basis. However, keen for personal challenge and growth, I implemented the strategy and started writing a few short articles with limited research and time. I quickly realized the articles would provide audiences little value and insight, and I felt it just wasn’t us. It felt dirty, like I was ‘selling out’, so I stopped the push for high frequency. It wasn’t a case of courage; it was a matter of integrity.
How Do You Make People Feel?
As I wrote in Smashing Magazine, consumers are making buying decisions based on how they feel about a company and its offer. Consequently, people want and demand an open dialogue and deeper connections with brands. In fact, in the Authentic 100 study noted earlier, nearly nine out of 10 consumers said they were willing to take action to reward a brand for its authenticity.
“The rules of communication have irrevocably changed, and we’re seeing consumers reward brands that understand how to engage with them openly and honestly. In fact, consumers will forgive the occasional corporate misstep if a company is upfront, and addresses the issue head-on,” said Donna Imperato, CEO, Cohn & Wolfe. “The brands topping the Authentic 100 understand this, and have demonstrated consistently that they value more than just their bottom lines by fostering a genuine dialogue with their customers.”
Don’t Say You’re Authentic, Be Authentic
You can try to fake authenticity, but you won’t get far. People will read you, feel a disconnect, and share their frustrations if their experiences don’t line up with your brand promise.
It’s like approaching someone at a bar and announcing you’re hilarious. Or meeting a prospect for the first time and declaring you’re honest. It would instantly raise a red flag and get backs up. You need to demonstrate your strengths, character and values.
Costco’s a great example of walking the talk. They don’t pay lip service about their risk-free return policy — they demonstrate it by taking back products few other stores would. I’ve heard stories about people buying and returning TVs for Super Bowls year after year, and returning trunk-loads of camping gear.
Is their generous policy open to abuse? Sure. However, a store manager of a nearby location recently told me they have the highest return rate in North America and — here’s the kicker — the highest sales transaction rate on the continent. Their actions build trust and credibility.
Terms of Authenticity
Relationships take work, and they don’t evolve overnight. Here are some ways to help build an authentic relationship with your customers.
- Clearly define your goals and your mission
- Document what you stand for and stand against
- Be transparent; reveal your personality and passion in your messaging
- Truly listen to your audiences to better understand their desires and needs
- Engage in conversations with your audience through social media
- Make promises you can keep, and if you screw up, own it!
Liberate your business and start reaping the rewards. Be who you are.
Which brands do you feel are the most authentic, and why?
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I can see why Apple and Disney is on the genuine business list, but Amazon? Threw me off. I really like this:
“By being true to ourselves, we can work with purpose and be optimistic. We can reach our greatest potential and experience happiness and fulfillment.”
That totally applies to business and to people. Thanks
Nike should be in the top 10. Great article!
Hi, Jane! Regarding Amazon, the people spoke and rated the company based on factors like high quality, delivering on promises, and social and environmental responsibility.
Thanks for your input, Vincent. For the record, Nike was #25. Here’s the full list: authentic100.com.
Personally, I like Freshbooks, SurveyMonkey, MailChimp, and many others.
Great article Rick! I am only slightly familiar with the company Kickstarter, but when I browsed and searched for products I found some of the start ups/entrepreneurs on there not only have an authentic product, but an authentic personalization which gives the product more value when I decide to purchase it.
Hi, Aldona! That’s an excellent example of how authenticity generates feelings about a brand!
Good read, and so true!! We do tend to try and fit in — absurd when you think about it as businesses need to stand out.