We can look at this title 2 ways: What makes for authentic marketing (vs. the disingenuous kind) and what is the process by which you should market authenticity—in other words, how should you present your authentic brand/self?
Let’s take the first question first.
What makes for authentic marketing? Well, honesty, for one. And allowing your organization’s/brand’s personality to shine through your communications. Instead of trying to be all things to all people (which leads to distortion and misrepresentation), you should be exactly who you are … and communicate this in the language of your customers. That’s authentic marketing, or at least what is perceived to be.
And that’s all that should matter: How your customers view you. A truth in marketing is perception = reality, because your customers—i.e., the people doing the buying based on a perceived value—are the reason for your existence. What is your reputation other than perceived trust based on a favorable track record or first impression? When perception is everything, authenticity is the only way to go. Furthermore, in a buyer-friendly, information-saturated world, there are no secrets, and competition for your customers is never far. If you’re not authentic, you lose to the business that is.
The bottom line is that authentic marketing requires humility. Compare the marketing of a company to the marketing individual job-hunters do as they “sell” themselves to employers. As multinational MBA recruiter Sandy Khan advises job candidates: “Authenticity comes from being humble, so humility is a big leadership trait that we look for.” Translate this to the corporate marketing world, and the conclusion is humility/authenticity indicates leadership.
How do you market your authenticity? One way to do this is simply by being human, which I and others (Marketo’s D.J. Waldow, for one) have written about previously. Obvious, right? Not exactly. Failing to display authenticity, plenty of brands, companies and websites neglect plainspoken language and genuine humility for bluster and jargon. Most people aren’t impressed by—and can’t even understand—your specialized terms or catchphrases. Not to mention, they don’t automatically share the feeling of how cool you think your product/service is. You’ve got to earn that over time, and it only happens when you’re helpful and tell it like it is … in your customers’ language. Trust ensues from respect, and respect ensues from showing authenticity.
Another example of non-authenticity (or at least irrelevance) is companies resting on their past success. If all you can really offer is the past, why should you get credit for the present? What is authenticity if not what are you today and what you promise to be for the future? Talking about a great tradition but not offering value in the present day is going to eventually be a losing proposition. Customers need to see who you are right now and what you can offer them today and tomorrow.
Perhaps the broadest and most powerful way to market authenticity comes from having empathy. Take it again from my earlier analogy about applying for jobs: Recruiter Khan said, “That’s a golden tip–understand what the buyer [employer] wants … and then make sure you can demonstrate it.”
Revealing your understanding of buyer needs and listening to their concerns is the key to empathizing. The companies that do this well win the hearts of customers forever. The ones that don’t are easily cast aside for the cheaper, better or otherwise more convenient alternatives. So, have empathy and exercise it freely. Reflect and project it in all your communications, from your website to emails to face-to-face interaction. Now, that’s authenticity.
By being who you are (and not pretending to be something you’re not), you earn customer respect. Without respect, your customers won’t love you for the long haul. Without love, you won’t have loyal buyers. Naturally, you need to offer them the right value in the form of your product/service, but the intangible factor that binds the long-term customer relationship is empathy, which is a function of your authenticity. Customers reward the companies that care, so market your authenticity and be authentic in your marketing.